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Changes to ISTEP

Posted by on in Carroll CSC Blog Posts
The news broke recently there may be another delay to the release of ISTEP scores.  This means local school “grades” will be further delayed and teachers will have to wait longer for the raises in pay they have earned.  The local news outlets have communicated there may have been some statistical difference in the performance of students who took paper tests versus those who took electronic or on-line tests.    

Carroll Consolidated School Corporation switched to all paper pencil tests last spring.  This was after Carroll experienced some technology issues during practice tests.  

The State Board of Education has asked for a study to compare paper and pencil test performance to that of online tests.  The issue may be the technology-enhanced questions.   Last year was the first year Indiana implemented new technology-enhanced questions that had multiple correct answers.  A problem could have two or three correct answers instead of just one.   Carroll teachers practiced and exposed our students to these new College and Career readiness sample questions last winter.  This is an entirely new way to assess students, and it will take time for us to convert our everyday assessments to this new format.   

There were multiple questions on last year’s ISTEP that required students to think and process and respond to large amounts of writing.  There is nothing wrong with that method of assessment. The problem was the students were given eight to twelve minutes to complete some of these sections that had multiple pages.   Teachers commented these sections didn’t seem to be developmentally appropriate for the age of students.   There are limits to how hard you can make a test for 3rd or 4th graders before they just shut down.  

Some of the stress educators feel is simply due to the rate of change the last few years.  Most educators acknowledge the need for accountability and documented progress for students.   The key is all parties have to understand how they are being measured and assessed.  The stress over the past year has been the change in the assessment was a real unknown for parents, students, and teachers.   The Indiana Department of Education has communicated to schools that there is a strand of questions in the 2014 ISTEP and 2015 ISTEP that are similar and these can be used to track student growth.  These student growth scores account for a large part of a teachers’ evaluation.  This is required by state law.  This was further complicated when the state cut the test sessions in half due to the public outcry about the length of the test.   

Educators are taking a wait and see approach.  The State Board of Education understands the importance of their decisions.  That is why they are being careful and reflective.  Early results show a 20% decrease in student performance statewide.   We can expect the same for our results.    The data has not been provided to us yet.  

 For the last ten years, we have had a consistent system of assessment.  People understood the tests and designed their curriculum so students would be successful.    I compare all these changes to running a mile in gym.  For years students knew they had to run the mile in gym class at the end of the term.  The gym teacher communicated to students the expectations to improve their time over the school year.  There may have been a specific cut time for earning a definite grade.   Perhaps, the teacher had a record board which documented the best mile time over the years.   These changes can be compared to changing the assessment to a three-mile run instead of a one-mile run.  You could measure the students' progress at the one-mile mark and compare it to the previous year.   However, the pace of the total race is different.   How you run the first mile of a three-mile race is different than just going out and running a mile.     We definitely have a different race to run now.  The test will be longer.  It will be harder.   I have full confidence in our teachers and students in their ability to adapt to the new system and rigors.   We just need time to understand the assessment, examine results, and change our curriculum.   It took schools about five years to fully understand and adjust to the ISTEP test.   We can anticipate a similar timeline with this change.  

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Upcoming ISTEP Test

Posted by on in Carroll CSC Blog Posts
Our 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students and teachers are busy preparing for the ISTEP assessment.  

The applied skills session of the test will be given March 2-March 13 and the multiple choice session of the test will be given on the iPads April 27-May 8.  

With Indiana's new College and Career Readiness Standards that have been put into place, the assessment is changing to align with the standards.  Below is a link to a group of sample tests for the new assessment.  You can click on the link to actually take a sample test.  It will begin just as if you are a student taking the test.  You do not need a log in.  Simply click login and start test.  Here you have the opportunity to see sample items from the assessment that your student will be taking in the very near future.  

Our teachers have been spending time having students practice these same sample items as well as other test practice activites.  

Click here to experience a sample of the College and Career Readiness Test


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Rigor and Relevance

Posted by on in Carroll CSC Blog Posts
Rigor and Relevance are the mantra of today’s education.  Schools have received clear communication from the Indiana Department of Education our new ISTEP + test will be a more rigorous test.  The test will focus on our new standards along with the federal mandate for college and career readiness.   It will ask the students to pick multiple correct answers, solve complicated multi-step problems, provide examples from what they read, and form opinions based on facts in the sample readings.  We know there will be a slow process to integrate more and more technology enhanced questions into the test.  Eventually through these technology enhanced questions students will be able to demonstrate skill and ability in creating specific work or products within the testing sessions. 

According to a College and Career Readiness Standards presentation to the State Board of Education, College and Career Readiness means, “The individual has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to succeed in post-secondary education and economically-viable career opportunities.”   This definition leads to the idea student feedback and documentation of readiness will require more than just nine out of ten on a subject area test.

As I analyze this definition, the words “skills” and “abilities” stand out.  In the past standards primarily measured knowledge alone.  I asked our team at Carroll if we provide feedback to students and parents on skills and abilities.   What skills and abilities are needed to be successful: process skills, writing skills, problem solving skills, social skills, or technology abilities?  I am interested in measuring one that influences all the rest… resiliency.   We have had many discussions on what it takes to tackle difficult problems.  Having background knowledge about the problem is not enough.  The students need to be able to push through the difficult problems.  Education researchers such as Dr. Joseph Renzulli  from the University of Connecticut  label this as task commitment.    In order to work on something which is difficult to solve a student or a person needs a certain amount of “stick-with-it-ness”.    This is a skill all future employers desire too.

Our analysis of the most recent ISTEP tests show students across the state are skipping or not completing the more difficult applied skills or essay questions.   There were multiple questions on the 8th grade ISTEP+ test in 2014 where thirty-one to forty-four percent of the students across the state scored a zero out of a possible three points.  A zero means the student didn’t attempt the problem or showed little evidence of attempting to solve the problem.    The students are not demonstrating high ability or skills in task completion. 

Why is this?  Perhaps maturity, lack of background knowledge, or time limits of the test?  That is what we want to find out.  Tests of knowledge will not show this.  I contend we will need to start giving students more feedback about their resiliency or ability to show task commitment.  Figuring out how to measure it and provide feedback are the initial challenge.   Teaching students more about a concept and building their background knowledge is not enough.  The students have to be forced to use the knowledge and apply it in multiple real world problems.  Once students are constantly challenged with more difficult tasks, we can start to measure task commitment and provide concrete feedback.   In order to achieve individual college and career readiness students will require more robust feedback than just documenting knowledge of a subject.   This will also support students as they transition to more and more rigorous curriculum. Continue reading
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