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Political player
McGraw-Hill, the New Jersey-based corporation whose testing division is responsible for the ISTEP+ breakdown last week, has given almost $20,000 to Indiana candidates over the past two years. Recipients include:
Tony Bennett, former superintendent of public instruction
David Long, Senate president pro tem
Luke Kenley, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman
Dennis Kruse, Senate Education Committee chairman
Robert Behning, House Education Committee chairman
Todd Huston, House Education Committee member and Indiana Charter School Board chairman
Jeff Espich, former House Ways and Means Committee chairman
Brian Bosma, speaker of the House

ISTEP+: Disastrous ‘glitch’

Don’t call it a glitch – Indiana’s ISTEP+ testing meltdown is a disaster.

A glitch would be a harmless disruption. Last week’s fiasco crumbled the foundation of an accountability system policymakers have foolishly designed to measure students, teachers and schools. Lawmakers extended the damage when they voted last month to hand out vouchers based on the results of the tests.

They now own the mess, along with the responsibility to make it right.

This is what happens “when you build an assessment house of cards on an untested system,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for Fair Test: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an organization that promotes valid and appropriate evaluations for students, teachers and schools. “We’re trying to go from zero to 90 miles an hour in terms of computer capacity, and it’s not working.”

Students’ computer screens displayed an error message as they attempted to take the high-stakes tests last week, the result of insufficient memory on testing contractor CTB/McGraw-Hill’s computer system.

Indiana’s problems, Schaeffer said, follow a pattern of testing screw-ups across the nation. Minnesota and Oklahoma tests were also interrupted last week. CTB/McGraw-Hill was responsible for ISTEP+ problems in 2011 as well.

Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, said the latest disruption “completely breaks the cycle of continuous improvement” the state’s largest district has cultivated.

“The one year where everything rests on these results – student scores, teachers’ ratings, the ability to get a voucher, your school ratings – everything, tied to a technology server,” she said. “The bottom line for me is that you’ve broken the trust of every student and teacher and parent. What faith would anyone have in this system when there are these sort of major glitches?”

In their headlong rush to expand charters, approve vouchers and cripple teachers’ unions, the Republican-controlled Statehouse used standardized test scores as a weapon, branding traditional public schools as failing based on test results. Demanding accountability from Indiana educators but none from the out-of-state contractor, the General Assembly has allowed the tests to be used for evaluating not just student performance, but teacher and school effectiveness and even the quality of the state’s colleges of education. Last month lawmakers voted to expand the voucher program by allowing students to leave F-graded public schools – grades based on those same test results – and use a voucher at any private school earning at least a D.

CTB/McGraw-Hill, with a four-year contract for more than $95 million, has exposed the weakness in the reform scheme. The company’s failure has placed Indiana schools in an impossible position. The testing delays will disrupt instruction, test scoring, reporting and – ironically – the flawed accountability system Indiana lawmakers entrusted to them.

Indiana voters should demand accountability from the politicians responsible for this disaster.