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 email@example.com.
The dog ate my homework.
- News Columns
MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice
Smart and savvy newspaper readers (that’s all of you, of course) know full well that their daily consumption of news and information isn’t an exclusively high-brow pursuit.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Lugar’s Legacy
In October 2012, at a dinner with friends, I found myself sitting next to a woman who’d grown up in Russia.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: AG goes after his own kind
Supporters of same-sex marriage hailed Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring when he announced that he wouldn’t defend his state’s prohibition against gay marriage.
THE OFF SEASON: So what does kindness look like?
There is an argument going on near my window sill. As I sit down to clack away at what will be a story about kindness, a squirrel and four blue jays bicker over a pile of birdseed I have left as charity.
I am not sure who will win out, but my money is on the jays, if anything, for their persistence and general orneriness.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Offshore tax havens undermine state
Gov. Mike Pence has spent months pushing the idea of repealing the tax on business equipment that provides $1 billion a year to schools, libraries and local governments.
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.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’
I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Overshadowed bills address veterans, guns, ‘Do Not Call’, TANF drug tests
If you’ve ever blown past a school bus with its bright red “Stop” arm extended, convinced you wouldn’t get caught breaking the law because no police were around, you might think twice about trying it again.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Law hits poverty-stricken schools hard
Chuck Brimbury is no-excuses kind of guy.
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.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell
You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.
MAX JONES: Digging for wisdom in Larrison’s lament
Ferocious winter storms have been a rarity in west-central Indiana in recent decades, even though heavy snow or sub-zero stretches of days drop in occasionally to remind us how miserable they can make us.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Plenty of ‘emptiness’ to go around at start of 2014 session
Last Tuesday’s cold start to the 2014 legislative session was warmed by the standing ovation given to House Minority Leader Scott Pelath following his traditional opening day remarks.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Conservative fight against constitutional amendment
Megan Robertson grew up in a Democratic family in a heavily Democratic area known as “the region” for its proximity to Chicago.
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.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Meth labs so prevalent, test kits on market for homebuyers
Donetta Held knows how strange the world of methamphetamine is.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Hoosiers’ priorities vs. legislators’ agenda
Every year at about this time, Statehouse reporters like me ask lawmakers what their priorities will be for the coming year.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Cheneys’ feud hits Indiana
Oh, it’s on.
If there was any doubt that the coming fight over the same-sex marriage ban amendment in Indiana was going to be elevated to the national level, it’s gone.
Chamber: Repeal ‘smoker’s bill of rights’
When Indiana lawmakers return for the 2014 session in early January, they’ll step into the highly charged issue of marriage equality as they debate the proposed amendment that would lock into the state constitution a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
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.
Citizens fight for school funds
Never underestimate the power of high school band parents.
MARK BENNETT: Tommy John getting another shot at Baseball Hall of Fame
Go ahead, circle Dec. 9 on your calendar.
Pence eyes reducing infant mortality as key legislative goal for administration
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence opened the state’s Infant Mortality Summit last week by sharing a personal story: He and his wife had struggled with infertility issues early in their marriage, so the eventual arrival of their three children was met with deep gratitude and appreciation.
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.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MAX JONES: Fight for public access among Dave Cox’s legacies
A group of Indiana newspaper editors who advise the Hoosier State Press Association on issues related to access to public records and meetings had the opportunity to meet new Public Access Counselor Luke Britt last week.
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.
- More News Columns Headlines
- MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice