The dog ate my homework.
That age-old excuse — based on a shockingly unforeseen complication — rarely works for a kid who didn’t finish yesterday’s math assignment.
Yet, in a role reversal, Indiana school children, along with their teachers and administrators, are left to accept an explanation for a disruption best described as the mother of all ironies. The company contracted by the state to administer the ISTEP+ tests apparently didn’t fully test its online testing system. As a result, the high-stakes, standardized tests had to be shut down in mid-stream on Monday and Tuesday after school districts around the state experienced connectivity problems and students getting booted offline.
So, the equally frustrated state Department of Education resumed ISTEP at half-speed on Wednesday. The state asked schools to reduce the daily test-taking pace by 50 percent and promised to be flexible with local districts hustling to meet the May 15 completion deadline.
The company, CTB/MacGraw-Hill assured the DOE that students’ responses before the online shutdowns will be saved, and that the validity and accuracy of the ISTEP won’t be compromised.
The company had an explanation.
In a news release, CTB said it tested the system in a simulation of “live school assessment scenarios. However, our simulations did not fully anticipate the patterns of live student testing, and as a result, our system configuration experienced service interruptions that impacted the testing process.”
Pardon Hoosiers, staring skeptically at the CTB statement, arms folded, foot tapping on the floor.
In a different era, it would be easier to take the problem in stride. A kid’s thought process and preparation gets abruptly halted one day, forcing a restart the next day. The youngster might score a little lower, but stuff happens, and life goes on, right? Sometimes Fido chews up the math workbook. Sometimes the testing company miscalculates the volume of test-takers.
The day of high-stakes standardized testing is different. The political push for school accountability reforms in recent years has elevated the impact of standardized tests beyond just measuring a student’s progress. Instead, ISTEP now plays a prime role in determining a school’s grade and teachers’ evaluations and pay. Thus, a disruption in the execution of the test — for which entire districts prepare all year — is kind of a big deal.
“The difference between one or two students’ scores can make a big difference to a school,” Vic Smith, a board member of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, said Wednesday by phone from Indianapolis. Smith was attending a meeting of the state Board of Education, where he said “everyone’s concerned.”
Since the four-year, $95-million deal with CTB began in 2011 under former superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett, ISTEP has encountered online problems in various parts of the state. This week’s snafus are more profound. Current superintendent Glenda Ritz, who inherited the situation, called for testing to shut down on Tuesday after 27,000 students were affected, including 7,000 in Vigo County.
As testing apparently resumed with minimal problems Wednesday, Ritz promised to find answers to the testing breakdowns. “We are well aware that the results of this high-stakes test inform school accountability, as well as staff performance evaluation/compensation,” she said in a news release. “After the testing is complete, the IDOE will be identifying any factors that may affect these areas and determine what action might be needed.”
During her successful campaign in last year’s election, Ritz questioned the over-emphasis of standardized testing. Too much “teaching to the test” was draining creativity from classrooms, Ritz — a career teacher — and many other educators contended. Even without two days of online testing system crashes, such standardized tests — especially those loaded with all of ISTEP’s implications — add another factor that schools and educators have to handle, tension. “There is a lot on the line,” state Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, said Wednesday. “And there’s a lot of pressure, and the kids know it.”
Ideally, this week’s problems will have a humbling effect on those who keep pushing new reforms into reality before the previous round’s effectiveness can be measured. A student taking the ISTEP can have an uncharacteristically bad week. And, as Hoosiers have now seen, a testing company can have a bad week. Maybe the reform movement should reconsider the impact of those bad testing weeks on kids, their parents, educators and schools.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dog ate my homework.
- Mark Bennett B-Sides
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: City sparkles during premiere of ‘The Drunk’
William Tanoos and Paul Fleschner cast their hometown in a starring role in their debut effort as filmmakers.
MARK BENNETT: ‘Notes on a River’ exhibition brings Wabash scenes to gallery
The best views of the Wabash come with wet, muddy feet.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for the perfect Valentine’s Day gesture may not involve gifts
You’ll need a broom, a pickup truck, trash bins, shop hooks and aspirin.
Filming a “Sanford and Son” remake? Preparing for the apocalypse?
MARK BENNETT: Illinois officials content their state has its business advantages, too
Most people count the Wabash River as an economic asset for Terre Haute. Of course, economic development officials in the Land of Lincoln beg to differ.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification
Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.
“That is illogical,” he’d say.
MARK BENNETT: Young at heart
Imagine an alternate ending to the old Life cereal commercial.
MARK BENNETT: The Drunk: Making peace
Terre Haute grew fond of Eugene Debs.
The process took time.
Debs film to debut at Indiana Theatre
Set in Terre Haute, based loosely on the legacy of a Terre Haute icon, the movie “The Drunk” has one appropriate place for its premiere.
MARK BENNETT: Album turns memories into musical Christmas message for Terre Haute’s Dave Frey, band
In a way, Dave Frey walked in the footsteps of Charles Schulz.
Both men worked hard to let Linus Van Pelt explain the “true meaning of Christmas.”
MARK BENNETT: ‘Longest Night Service’ a time to reflect, remember
Holiday images rarely depict hurt or struggle.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
John bypassed by Hall of Fame again
Baseball Hall of Fame electors have bypassed Tommy John again. The Terre Haute-born pitcher, who won 288 games in 26 big-league seasons, didn’t receive enough votes from the Veterans Committee as it cast ballots on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
Tim Meadows: SNL cast member knew he was prime time
If you watched the first broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 11, 1975, raise your hand.
That gives you something in common with Tim Meadows.
MARK BENNETT: Walk of Fame inductee would stand tall in any era
Unlike most of us, Amory Kinney didn’t let the wall around his comfort zone grow taller as time passed.
MARK BENNETT: Words, and what they mean, is what we remember
I remember scanning the granite wall at the grave of President John F. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, looking for those words.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Filling our void: Terre Haute artist Bill Wolfe poured his heart and soul into the project of a lifetime
Bill Wolfe thumbed through a series of photographs documenting his sculpture of basketball legend Larry Bird.
MARK BENNETT: Keeping Terre Haute a vibrant city ‘worth doing’
The past, present and future had just converged at the Crossroads of America.
The moment was made possible by the gutsy spirit of 1920s Terre Haute. Without it, the city would look starkly different.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John’s Field of Dreams
A kid pedals a bicycle, a ball glove looped over the handlebar, headed to a sandlot game.
It didn’t get much better than that for a 10-year-old in summertime.
MARK BENNETT: Indiana’s Donnelly part of ‘The Middle’ that got deal done
Hanging out in the middle isn’t cool.
Its occupants don’t attract a captivated circle of listeners at parties, their comments don’t inspire hell-yeahs on Facebook, and they don’t pretend to always be right.
MARK BENNETT: ISU professor’s book on Churchill to be TV period drama
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
MARK BENNETT: Restoration improves courthouse top’s standing in skyline
Terre Haute has a skyline.
From some angles, it consists of billboards, restaurant marquees and convenience-store signs. From other spots, the outlines of historic buildings, church steeples, college dorms and old industries jut into the horizon.
MARK BENNETT: Inspiring project connects Blues Festival, B&G Club members with music
Think a decade into the future. You’re relaxing amid a sea of fellow lawn-chair sitters at Seventh and Wabash, watching the 23rd annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival. Suddenly, the guy on stage starts playing your old Fender guitar. He sounds like the next B.B. King. Then, the guitarist dedicates a song to the person who donated that worn Telecaster to the youth music program in which he learned to play it.
MARK BENNETT: Even Marty McFly wouldn’t want to go back to those paydays
Reliving the 1980s may sound tempting.
Ah, simpler times. Then again … hair styles as big as mushroom clouds, “Miami Vice” jackets, the trickle-down theory, New Coke, Yugos.
OK, “Back to the Future”-style nostalgia obviously has its limits.
MARK BENNETT: Hoops film focuses on life of ‘Slick’ Leonard
Many Americans connect basketball with Indiana.
MARK BENNETT: Rose-Hulman bridge design would let people walk, run, ride across Wabash River
Four months, 500 miles and 18 towns.
In the course of compiling the “500 Miles of Wabash” series, which concludes this Sunday, Tribune-Star photographer Jim Avelis and I heard valuable insights from dozens of people who live, work and recreate along Indiana’s state river. One comment seems particularly relevant to Terre Haute, especially as the ongoing 2013 Year of the River celebration stirs ideas. The quotation affirms the potential of a stellar proposal this community ought to consider.
MARK BENNETT: When did athleticism surpass skill in sports?
Baseball has gotten too athletic.
MARK BENNETT: Steve Martin keeps Terre Haute on burner
If insults are a form of flattery, Steve Martin still likes us.
Better yet, he hasn’t forgotten us.
- More Mark Bennett B-Sides Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river