Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 15, 2012

Online assessment in the works to replace ISTEP

GOSHEN — Students in courses such as science and history will spend less time listening to lectures and taking multiple-choice exams and more time debating concepts and taking essay-based tests in order to meet new state standards and to pass the test that’s coming with them.

In other words, it no longer will be enough to know when Christopher Columbus sailed to America. Now students need to know why he took the trip and its overall impact. And they need to be able to write about it clearly.

The change is a result of new state education standards and a new statewide exam.

For years, Indiana has used ISTEP to see how well students understand math and English lessons and whether they meet state standards.

Students read stories and answer questions about characters and the author’s main idea and are asked to reorganize prewritten paragraphs so they make better sense.

To test math skills, students are given word problems and have to decide which of the many details given are needed to answer the question.

Indiana has been using the same academic standards since 2000. But those standards, along with Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam, are going away.

Students still will be assessed in math, English, social studies and science. But now they will take the test online, might be shown a video clip that’s paired with an online article on the same topic. Then students will write an essay that details the similarities and differences between the clip and the article and creates a conclusion from the information provided.

Other essays will involve students using a Google-like search engine to research a topic on the Internet and write a response about what they found.

The test, which is being written, is a part of a new set of academic standards Indiana and more than 40 other states are using. The standards require students not only to know subjects, dates, addition and subtraction but also how to apply what they’ve learned in different areas, such as folding what they’ve learned in English into science.

Indiana is one of 24 states that are part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, and the states are working together to create the new assessment, which all of their students will use.

Indiana students now take ISTEP in grades 3-8 and take end-of-course assessments at the end of algebra I and English 10 classes.

But in three years, all third- through 11th-graders will take the new exam, which will replace ISTEP and the assessments, Indiana Department of Education chief assessment officer Wes Bruce said.

To make sure students are prepared, teachers are starting to use the new standards in their classrooms. Kindergarten classes already use the new standards, and upper grades will start using them over the next two years.

Ideally the new standards and test will prepare students for college as well as their careers, Greenwood Community Schools director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said.“(Teachers) are going to have to help students become as proficient in the acquisition of knowledge, the processing of knowledge and then the dissemination or demonstration of knowledge as the teacher is. This is getting kids college- and career-ready,” he said.

The new exam won’t test students on a greater number of topics. In fact, the number of standards required by common core is fewer than Indiana’s current standards. Instead, the test will ask students to show they understand more than dates and formulas but can show how different lessons and subjects relate.

For math, that might involve solving an algebra problem and then using the answer to help solve a multi-step geometry problem, Bruce said.

The computerized test also will give students more interactive ways to solve problems. A science question could display a model of the human body and ask students to draw arrows to different bones or organs. And English portion of the test could have students drag and group different kinds of words together, Bruce said.

Teachers already use similar technology-based lessons with students, and the new computerized test will ensure what students are tested on is closer to what they’re used to seeing and doing in class, Bruce said.

The new test also will help juniors who have plans to go to college after graduation.

The PARCC group is working with public college in several states, including Indiana, which will accept the test in place of the placement exam they typically give incoming freshman. That means colleges and prospective students would know earlier what, if any additional help a student needs before beginning college classes full time, Bruce said.

The new test will be broken into two parts and given about midway through the spring, similar to the way ISTEP is now.

Next year a small group of students throughout the state will take a practice test, and in 2014 schools in Indiana can chose to take an updated practice test. Everyone, in Indiana and the other 23 states, will take the test in 2015.

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