Pence and Ritz make agreement as another ISTEP consultant is brought on board

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istep testing troubles 2

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By Megan Trent

INDIANAPOLIS (February 11, 2015) – Gov. Mike Pence is bringing another consultant on board to review this year’s controversial ISTEP exam, which will take students at least twice as long to complete this year.

Pence signed an executive order Monday to hire consultants to review the exam and offer actionable suggestions on shortening the ISTEP before testing begins March 2. He didn’t waste any time hiring, Edward Roeber, the Assessment Director for the Michigan Assessment Consortium. Today he announced that Bill Auty, who has a long history designing assessment programs in Oregon, will also be brought on as a consultant. Both men are expected to get paid $22,000 for their consulting work.

“These are two nationally recognized assessment experts who work with states across the country and have worked with the US Department of Education and I believe they are going to bring a tremendous amount of experience to bare on how we shorten this test while maintaining the validity of the data and the validity of the results,” said Pence during a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse.

Preliminary recommendations by the consultants are expected by Friday. Pence said to make cuts to the test in time for testing.

“We can shorten this test. We have time to do it. Now with this cooperation, I’m confident we will do just that,” he asserted.

Pence said he spoke with Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz on Wednesday and was grateful for her willingness to cooperate with the consultants.

“I am pleased to report that the Superintendent and the Department of Education have agreed to release all requested information to the state’s consultants.”

The comments are in stark contrast to the adversarial relationship Pence and Ritz have exhibited recently. Pence said Ritz has also given her approval of direct communications between the consultants and the test’s vendor, CTB McGraw-Hill. She has also pledged to make shortening the test a priority at the State Board of Education meeting Friday.

“I believe with the cooperation we now have in place between the outside consultants that we’ve  retained, with the superintendent and the Department of Education, with our vendor, as well as members of the State Board of Education, I’m confident we can significantly shorten this test.”

McGraw Hill has also promised to cooperate with the test revisions. They have already sent state leaders seven possible ideas for shortening the test, some of which would require legislative action. Pence says he has already spoken with leaders in the House and Senate about that possibility.

“If there is a need for legislation to give us the flexibility to shorten this test, then I’m confident it will be given a favorable consideration before the general assembly,” said Pence.

Since state and federal statutes don’t set exact requirements for the length of the test, Pence said there is some room for flexibility. He said he has talked with the U.S. Secretary of Education this week, stating there may be a need for additional flexibility in Indiana this year.

Ritz and Pence may be taking a more cooperative approach now, but that could change on Friday when a resolution goes before the State Board of Education that would suspend the state’s A-F accountability system for one year. Among other things, it would also suspend the state’s IREAD-3 test, an exam third graders are required to pass to move on to the fourth grade. The test comes just weeks after the first round of ISTEP is complete. Pence, however, does not support the measure.

“The answer here is not to suspend our school grading program,” Pence said. “The answer here is to shorten the test and make sure the test has the integrity and validity to support our accountability system, and that we will do.”