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State aids students in testing transition

Last month, I vowed to preserve and extend Indiana’s federal waiver from certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Because Indiana schools rely upon the flexibility of federal dollars afforded to them through the waiver, it is important that Indiana extend its waiver.

In recent conversations with the U.S. Department of Education, it has been made clear that Indiana must administer a fully operational assessment based on the newly adopted college-and-career ready Indiana Academic Standards in the spring of 2015. Therefore, the 2014-15 ISTEP+ (grades 3-8) will measure student performance based on the 2014 Indiana Academic Standards. This does not allow Indiana to pilot the test for one year, as originally planned.

The federally required alignment of next year’s ISTEP+ to college-and-career ready standards means holding schools and teachers accountable for new standards that they have only had seven months to teach. The new assessment will be more rigorous with technologically enhanced items.

Even though the Department of Education is prepared to provide a full array of support to prepare our students, including professional development and experiences for students with sample questions in both math and English/language arts, I have concerns regarding school and teacher accountability based upon these new assessments.

I have always been a proponent of strong teacher and school accountability. However, as we have seen historically, it is typical for student scores on standardized tests to dip as a result of new and more rigorous expectations, giving the appearance of a decline in achievement. In order for an accountability system to be strong and meaningful to parents and educators, it must also be fair and equitable. That is why we need to look at ways we can minimize the effect of a likely expected drop in performance.

Regardless of decisions made about accountability concerns, my department is committed to reporting out all data from the new assessment to parents and schools to inform student learning, school improvement and professional development.

While the waiver is an agreement between the Department of Education and the federal government, the issues are Indiana’s. Because past and future legislation will affect the waiver, it is vital that all parts of government understand its implications. That is why I will be working with state and local leaders to minimize any negative effects of this federal requirement.

I am in regular contact with Gov. Mike Pence’s staff and legislative leadership, as well as the State Board of Education and its staff, about steps we can take to implement the new assessment while maintaining strong and transparent accountability. I look forward to continuing this work as we submit our formal waiver application later this month.

As an educator, I pledge open communication with parents and schools as we move forward to assure that students feel supported in this transition and that parents and educators receive meaningful feedback for students’ continued academic growth.

Glenda Ritz is Indiana superintendent of public instruction. She wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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