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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
FWCS school board President Mark GiaQuinta, left, and Superintendent Wendy Robinson lead a news conference questioning the validity of this year’s ISTEP+ exam.

Validity of ISTEP+ exam disputed

Glitches test students’, staffs’ patience; probe sought

Educators in Allen County and across the state are questioning the validity of the ISTEP+ exam after problems plagued this week’s round of online testing.

“We are at the point where we doubt very seriously that the results will indicate the effort of our teachers, parents and students,” Mark GiaQuinta, FWCS board president, told a news conference at Grile Administrative Center on Friday.

GiaQuinta is calling on legislators to commission an independent investigation into the reliability of the test.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said Friday she is considering bringing in a third party to review ISTEP+ scores.

To help legislators and the state Department of Education understand the effect of the problems, Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Chris Himsel is sharing student stories.

Like the story of one student in the district who started crying when a “fail” message appeared on her computer screen, indicating a network failure.

“However, at 9 years of age, a ‘failed’ message does not always translate into ‘a technical issue occurred with uploading the answers,’ ” Himsel wrote in an email to staff, thanking the student’s teacher and others who’ve calmed students with similar reactions.

Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson asked those at the news conference Friday to imagine the frustration of a child spending more than two hours taking a 30-minute test because of server problems. She said most adults wouldn’t have the patience for the task.

During a Southwest Allen County Schools board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Steve Yager reported that when students came back to the test after experiencing problems, they were going through it as fast as they could.

“They were not taking their time, not reading the question thoroughly, not making sure that they understood the question and all the answers that were available for the question because they were afraid it was going to lock up again, which it did,” he said.

The testing window for Round 2 of the state’s standardized test that began Monday has been riddled with problems. At the state’s urging, most students are now taking the test online, but the vendor, CTB/McGraw Hill, has experienced problems all week with its server that have caused students to be interrupted while taking the test.

Testing for most schools was suspended until Wednesday. Since then, schools have been asked to reduce the number of devices or students on the network by half.

The state Department of Education has extended the testing window for schools to complete the testing and announced Friday that schools can move to testing at normal levels.

Student performance on the standardized tests is required by law to be used in the state’s A-F accountability grading system. If schools receive failing grades for too many consecutive years, the state could appoint an education management company to take over the schools.

The scores are also required to be incorporated into teacher evaluations and compensation.

“This fiasco indicates as clearly as anything possibly could that you don’t tie legislation to a single test,” GiaQuinta said.

Robinson said the district will test through the extension, even though it means teachers will lose days of instruction time because “we’re going to be held responsible.”

“Who’s going to hold CTB accountable? Who’s going to hold the state accountable?” Robinson said.

CTB/McGraw Hill spokesman Dan Sieger said by email Friday that the company’s focus since the disruptions Monday and Tuesday has been to work with the state “to ensure the stability of the testing environment for the state’s students.”

“We are working closely with the (state) superintendent’s office to conduct a multifaceted set of validity checks on any test session that was interrupted during the Monday and Tuesday event,” he said.

Northwest Allen is still reporting problems with online testing for its special education students who use certain accommodations for the test.

FWCS officials said even the slightest interruptions like bells ringing or leaving a door open isn’t considered an optimal environment for testing, so when students are experiencing problems of this magnitude, the validity will undoubtedly be questioned.

Yager said he would be surprised if students perform as well as they normally would because of the stress the problems create.

“There’s no way that it’s a fair assessment of what our kids are capable of. And not just our kids, but all kids across the state,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.