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NCLB Outrages

Students get double dose of ISTEP

Yes, this double whammy of
state testing is caused by NCLB, but it is
dismaying to see how cheerfully educators
scramble to make a silk purse out of a sow's
ear.


By Cindy Marshall and Andy Gammill

Area school districts are gearing up for the
most unusual year of standardized tests in two
decades.
Starting today in some districts, third-
through eighth-graders and 10th-graders will
take the ISTEP-Plus exams for the first of two
times this year -- fall and spring.

The double-whammy for students is a
transitional step required by federal mandates
as the state moves its Indiana Statewide
Testing for Educational Progress-Plus to the
spring.

In another twist, this year's high school
sophomores will be the last high school
students to take ISTEP all at once. Current
freshmen -- the Class of 2012 -- will take
exams after completing algebra, biology and
sophomore English, instead of big tests as
freshmen and sophomores.

Schools have taken different approaches in the
past few weeks to prepare: pep rallies, door-
to-door awareness campaigns and extra tutoring
for those who failed last year -- all in an
effort to ensure students score as high as
possible.

The tests this week -- districts must finish
the fall test by Sept. 26 -- will cover
material taught last school year; the test in
the spring will cover concepts learned during
this school year.

John Kleine, principal at Raymond Park Middle
School in Warren Township, said the two tests
will give educators a unique opportunity to
gauge improvement.

"What I'm embracing and having my teachers
embrace," he said, "is this is an opportunity
to really see what you, the teacher, have in
terms of an impact from what their scores are
in the fall and what their scores are in the
spring."

Students groan when teachers mention the double
test, said Mollie Davis, an eighth-grader at
the Center For Inquiry in Indianapolis. She
said it will be annoying to take the test twice
but she's not worried.

"I think it's a lot of testing and a lot of
preparing for the test," she said. "I think
they feel it's going to be good to help us get
ready for high school."

No more cramming
Indianapolis Public Schools, like some other
districts, has instituted a 20-day test
preparation and review period that includes
tutoring for struggling students.

But by and large, schools have moved past the
relentless test preparation exercises to help
them meet federal and state benchmarks.

"This is not a test you can cram for," said Jim
Snapp, assistant superintendent for curriculum
and instruction with Franklin Township Schools.
"It used to be the state standards were not as
tightly aligned with the test."

When ISTEP was first administered in 1988,
educators weren't sure what to expect. Now,
they are familiar with the state's guidelines
for lessons and are able to weave those
subjects into the regular curriculum.

"We know the state standards, and it's not just
a shot in the dark," said Cheri O'Day, Wayne
Township Schools' director of school community
services and training.

In Washington Township, the district has an
after-school program to help elementary
students get additional remediation time. The
township previously offered the program in
higher grades, but funding ran out.
Now the district's focus is on its four Title I
schools. Such schools, under federal
guidelines, have a higher percentage of lower-
income families.

"In our four Title I schools, we've had great
results" because of the program, said Judy
Fraps, project director for after-school
programs.

The small group instruction sessions help
students develop positive attitudes about the
exam and build relationships, she said.

"They can each ask their own questions and help
one another," Fraps said.

Other changes
At the high school level, schools are preparing
for the new algebra, biology and English exams
that will be administered. The algebra and
English 10 tests will be required to graduate
instead of the previous graduation qualifying
exam.

Scott Bauserman, a social studies teacher at
Decatur Central High School who teaches ISTEP
remediation classes and worked with the Indiana
Department of Education when the exam was being
formulated, said teaching students to read
directions, look critically at the test and
understand the essay-portion format are
crucial.

Students who fail will need to build the skills
to prepare for the SAT and other exams in the
future, he said.

"For many of the kids (who fail), it's not a
skills deficit, it's a test deficit," Bauserman
said. "Building their test-savvy capacity is
not just about ISTEP."

Those kinds of basics should remain the focus
this year on both tests, State Superintendent
of Public Instruction Suellen Reed said,
despite any confusion because of the
transition.

"They're very important, as they always have
been," she said. "It's very important for our
schools that kids really try their best, that
parents encourage them to do their best,
because the whole school will be judged on the
results."

— Cindy Marshall and Andy Gammi
Indy Star
2008-09-15


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