ISTEP Is Upon Us

jeopardyI imagine myself on the set of the game show Jeopardy.  Alex Trebek reminds the contestants that we must respond in the form of a question.  On the big board flash the categories, and the game begins.  The first clue pops up, and I click my buzzer confidently.  I know this one!  Alex reads the clue: “ISTEP.”  I respond: “How do I begin to walk, Alex?”  Alex now knows two things: It’s going to be a long show, and the parting gifts will be for me tonight.

All Hoosiers know, of course, that ISTEP is really our state’s standardized test.  The exam’s format changed last year, and is still in flux a bit from last year’s version.  ZMS students will be taking part one of the exam on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 2nd and 3rd).  This part of the test is more open-ended than the next, and sudents will be required, for example, to show work in math and respond to writing prompts.

The second part of the exam will occur within the window of April 26-May 7.  The DOE has encouraged us to take part two of the exam online this year, the first time it has been available in this format.  This portion is multiple choice only.

ISTEP is an assessment to determine mastery of grade level standards.  In other words, it assesses whether students meet a minimum level in that particular grade level’s curriculum.  This contrasts with the NWEA exam (also administered in April) which measures student growth irrespective of grade level.  It adjusts to and pinpoints the student’s level of mastery.  (The NWEA exam is also an online, multiple choice exam).  The ISTEP assessment determines if a student is working at grade level, and the NWEA shows student growth over time for students whether they are at, below, or above grade level.

Results of these exams can be very helpful for individual students and for our institution.  If for example, a student does not pass the ISTEP, it is important to see if (s)he is still exhibiting growth, and then to respond accordingly.  The same holds true for students well above grade level.  Yes, they will pass the ISTEP, but are they still exhibiting growth over time?  Sometimes the answer to that question is no, and if that is the case, it is up to us to figure out why.  As a school, it is important for us to recognize trends and patterns in order to know whether our curriculum is properly aligned and whether our instructional strategies are effective.

Testing has become a political football over the years, and it is both praised in some camps and vilified in others.  I have had parents tell me they chose to send their kids to our school because of our students’ standardized test success, and had others tell me that all we care about is our test scores.  I suppose we are proud that our students fare well on the assessment.  When I consider other response options (apathy, disdain), it seems our choice is proper.

So if “ISTEP” did pop up on Final Jeopardy, what would be the correct response?  I can hear the music playing in my head as I consider what to write next.  “Why should students eat a good breakfast on Tuesday and Wednesday?”  Nah.  “Why do students need to bring and sharpen multiple number 2 pencils next week?”  May I phone a friend?  Darn, wrong game show.  Hurriedly I write, “What required assessment will ZMS students take next week in hopes to determine whether the student is working at grade level and whether the school is performing appropriately?”  The timpani sounds the final two notes of the theme song.  Alex explains that he loves my answer as he brushes his mustache, but tells me that contestants without money don’t get to play Final Jeopardy.

I knew I should have played Deal or No Deal.

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