By Megan Banta
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced Monday that the state has hired a third party to determine whether testing interruptions that occurred in the spring invalidated student ISTEP test scores.
Richard Hill, co-founder of the New Hampshire-based National Center for the Improvement of Education Assessment, will analyze the validity of the tests for those students who experienced serious interruptions due to computer server errors. That was about 16 percent of all test-takers.
Ritz said because the legitimacy of the test results is still in question, she will be advising local school districts to "lower the significance of the ISTEP test in regard to teacher evaluation" this year while still allowing the local districts to determine the exact percentage of that significance on their own.
Hill's analysis, which began today and will take about four to five weeks to complete, will be independent of any studies conducted by CTB-McGraw Hill, the company that administers the ISTEP. Hill will also analyze any findings by CTB. His review is not expected to cost any more than $53,600.
Sen. Dennis Kruse, a Republican from Auburn who serves as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the four to five week estimate is "very reasonable" since so many students experience some technical difficulty while taking the test online.
He said Ritz and the Department of Education took "proper action in hiring an outside consultant to review this year's ISTEP test results."
"Those who suffered the most were students and hiring an outside advisor to validate ISTEP scores was the right thing to do," Kruse said.
Though Ritz gave estimates for the duration and cost of Hill's analysis, she said that timeline was not exact. She said that's because she is more concerned the process be done correctly, since the ISTEP is such a high-stakes test.
"It's critical to have the validation process completed with the utmost quality," she said. "I want it done right."
Ritz said when the state is giving the ISTEP or other tests, there is always a "chance that something like this can happen."
She said because there are high stakes attached to the test, the state must respond differently now to glitches like this than it would have in the past, when the sole purpose of the ISTEP was to gauge student learning. She said she would like the test once more to be focused on student learning.
"I'm hoping that the state of Indiana wants to reduce the high stakes attached to this test," she said. "It should be about student learning."
The General Assembly and the State Board of Education are also undertaking studies of the ISTEP problems.
Megan Banta is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.