ISTEP doesn’t add up

Well, this match certainly wasn’t made in heaven.

The alliance between big business and our state government’s big educational bureaucracy — an alliance, by the way, that looks increasingly tilted toward big business — appears to be showing Indiana kids and their parents the worst of both worlds.

Over the weekend, the Star broke yet another scandalous ISTEP story. This one has no less than seven supervisors who oversaw the scoring of ISTEP tests last spring alleging that up to tens of thousands of test questions were given incorrect scores.

The cause of these alleged mistakes was at least twofold. The supervisors (who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity) claim a software malfunction misread keypad-entered scores on open-ended questions.

This problem was discovered April 22, eight days after CTB McGraw Hill, the company responsible for ISTEP scoring, began the process at their Michigan Road scoring center. Eight days passed before a CTB scoring director called a meeting to address the problem.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, CTB reportedly compounded the problem by telling the supervisors the company would not rescore any tests that had already gone through the system. A CTB scoring director advised evaluators to use a mouse instead of the keypad for entering scores.

CTB McGraw Hill, of course, denies that anything went wrong. “Based on CTB’s quality control tests, there was no need to rescore any tests as a result of the keypad issue,” CTB’s Executive Vice President Ellen Haley informed the Indiana Dept. of Education.

According to the whistle-blowing supervisors, 1.2 million individual responses were graded before the malfunction was discovered. They estimated that rescoring those responses could have cost as much as $500,000, a number that wouldn’t have added up for CTB, as the state had recently dropped CTB as its ISTEP vendor for 2016.

If true, these allegations underscore the mess high-stakes testing has made of Indiana schools. Indiana business and political leaders (including so-called education entrepreneurs) have used high stakes testing as a default position for their lack of intellectual and imaginative rigor. At this point, generations of children have been used as pawns for the scoring of political points and profits.

Schools continue to function as theaters of last resort for the solving of social problems our leaders are either too timid or too dim to face. Instead of dealing with poverty, underemployment and family dysfunction, we have put almost all our chips on schools and, in particular, teachers, to serve as fixers.

While no one questions the importance of meaningful student evaluation, high stakes testing is a cudgel used to turn schools into training centers where administrators, teachers and, especially, kids are conditioned to confuse learning with performance. If ISTEP scores aren’t considered up to par, teachers can be docked and schools subjected to state takeover, which, these days, usually means a profit-making opportunity for some educational opportunist.

All of this, we’re told, is for the Children. They’re our future. They are also one hell of a market, which is where that match I talked about, between big business and state government, was, shall we say, consummated.

Originally published at

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