Given the political push back and legislative discussion over the Common Core Standards touted by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and endorsed by many teachers in the region, it does not look like there will be changes to the ISTEP-Plus test anytime soon.
Some change in the state's standardized test was expected with the move to Common Core assessments in the 2014-15 school year, but that's not likely to happen because of the legislative discussion now under way, said Terry Spradlin, associate director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University at Bloomington.
The Common Core State Standards were unanimously adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education in 2010 and supported by Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Adoped by 45 other states, the Common Core Standards are a set of academic standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade developed to provide a clear, consistent understanding of what students are expected to learn at each grade level in math, English/language arts, social studies and science.
The Common Core Assessment would have been used, replacing ISTEP-Plus.
However, Senate Bill 193, authored by state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, calls for a delay in implementing the standards pending further review, something new Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz supports. Ritz, a Democrat, defeated Bennett, a Republican, in November's statewide election.
When Ritz testified before the state Senate Committee on Education in January, she said, "For me, and many educators throughout the state, this discussion is not about rebuking the Common Core Standards and returning to our former standards; it is about Indiana having rich dialogue about the individual standards that will guide our instruction to ensure our children have the best education, to give them the best college and career opportunities."
Ritz said it will take several years to develop any new assessment, and she'd like to see a growth-model assessment rather than a pass/fail test.
Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux said unless new legislative action takes place this current session, ISTEP-Plus will be in place for the next two years beyond this year. Any replacement of ISTEP will involve significant dollars for test development, he said.
"While a shift to the Common Core is likely, the selection of a new state exam will involve a lot of discussion," he said. "Common Core does emphasize more reading, writing and critical thinking. I have heard that Superintendent Ritz is investigating 'Smart Balance,' a different assessment."
Any assessment that involves more essay-based tests will require “readers” of those essays to be hired and trained and longer turnaround time for scoring and reporting, Lux said.
Spradlin said regardless of what happens this session, the Common Core Standards are likely to be debated for the next couple of years.
"One of the benefits of adopting the Common Core would be the economies of scale," he said. "Our cost right now is on the high end for each test per student, compared to other states. By staying with the Common Core Standards, we'd have an opportunity to lower the cost and share costs for the development of assessments."
Indiana teachers across the state have been collaborating with the state Department of Education to implement the newer standards with a target date of 2014-15. Portage Township School Board President Cheryl Oprisko said in January that the Common Core Standards "will allow us to be able to see what we're doing as a nation and compare ourselves globally — something we hadn't been able to do before, because each state operated independently."
Munster schools implemented the standards last year.
"It was a big shock," said math teacher Ryan Ridgely, who also is president of the Munster Teachers Association.
"Students struggled because of the difficulty they had trying to explain why they were doing things, instead of just answering a problem. ... We are now asking students to become acclimated to and master many standards earlier in their education" using Common Core Standards.