Education A CLOSER LOOK: ISTEP scores, a history and what it means for...

A CLOSER LOOK: ISTEP scores, a history and what it means for your school


Indiana students, teachers and parents are bracing for what education officials are projecting to be a precipitous drop in 2015 ISTEP+ exam scores. The Indiana Department of Education is estimating as many as 40 percent of Indiana schools will be rated either ‘D’ or ‘F’ as a result. About 10 percent of schools were rated “D” or “F” in 2014. The drop in scores and likely corresponding drop in schools’ A-F grades are the ripple effect of recent education reforms enacted by the Republican-led Indiana Legislature.

What is ISTEP and why do students take it?

The Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress Plus (ISTEP+) was launched in 1987. The test is intended to measure student achievement of subject material. The test is administered annually to third through eighth graders in English and mathematics. Fourth and sixth graders also take a science ISTEP exam and fifth and seventh graders are tested on social science.

Traditionally, student testing is completed over two to three days in time increments of 20-65 minutes per test. Over the two to three day period, students undergo three to five hours of testing total.

Sample ISTEP Questions

Math – 4th grade

Part A 1 kilogram = 1,000 grams

John’s pumpkin has a mass of 2 kilograms. The mass of Greg’s pumpkin is 500 grams less than John’s pumpkin. What is the mass, in grams, of Greg’s pumpkin?


Math – 6th grade

Lynn is baking 20 cakes. She needs blueberries, strawberries, and some other ingredients for her recipe.  She needs 22 pounds of blueberries.  She needs twice as many pounds of blueberries as she does strawberries.

Part A

Write an equation that can be used to determine the number of pounds of strawberries Lynn needs. Be sure to define the variable in your equation.

Part B

Lynn buys the blueberries for $3 per pound and the strawberries for $2 per pound. What is the total cost of the blueberries and strawberries?


Math – 7th grade

A student claims that 8x – 2(4 + 3x) is equivalent to 3x. The student’s steps are shown. Expression: 8x – 2(4 + 3x)

Step 1: 8x – 8 + 3x

Step 2: 8x + 3x – 8

Step 3: 11x – 8

Step 4: 3x

Describe ALL errors in the student’s work.

If the errors in the student’s work are corrected, what will be the final expression?



English – 6th grade

Click here for reading prompt>>

Describe a theme of the excerpt from The Wind in the Willows and how it is revealed. Support your answer with details from the excerpt.

English – 8th grade

Click here for reading prompt>>

How does Buck change after he is rescued by John Thornton? Support your response with details from the excerpt.


What are A-F grades?

In 1999, the Indiana General Assembly established a performance-based accountability system based on student performance on statewide annual assessments (ISTEP) and progress made toward improvement. Schools were placed into categories: exemplary progress; commendable progress; academic progress; academic watch; and academic probation. In 2011, the Indiana State Board of Education approved changes to the state’s accountability system including a transition to “A-F” categories. Participation, performance and growth of high and low performing students determined middle and elementary schools’ grades. High schools’ grades also include graduation rate and college and career readiness factors.

The A-F grading system came under heavy scrutiny when news broke that former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett – a polarizing character in the Indiana education arena – had changed the grades of as many as 160 schools including a school run by a political benefactor of the former Superintendent. Bennett was eventually cleared of any misconduct.

Legislative leaders joined Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz to create a panel to review and make recommendations to modify the A-F system again. The panel developed recommendations that measured students’ performance and growth compared with similar-scoring peers. The new evaluation system will be utilized beginning in 2016.

What do ISTEP scores and A-F grades affect?

Lawmakers tied A-F grades to issues ranging from state takeover of low-performing schools to voucher eligibility, teacher performance pay and charter school grants.

State intervention of low-performing schools – After four consecutive “F” grades, schools are eligible to begin the process of state intervention to raise the school’s performance. Passed in 2015, House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1638 modified the timeline for state intervention. If a school received an “F” school prior to July 1, 2015, then it remains on the previous six year intervention timeline. If a school receives its first “F” grade after July 1, 2015, the  four year intervention timeline established in HEA 1638 will apply.

Voucher eligibility – Students that live in the attendance zone of a school rated “F” for one year and meet income requirements can receive funding to attend a private or religious school as part of Indiana’s controversial school voucher program. Schools that receive an “F” for two consecutive years are barred from accepting state-funded vouchers.

Teacher performance ratings– As part of contentious education reforms enacted under Republican leadership,student performance on high-stakes testing like ISTEP must represent at least part of how teachers are evaluated. Critics have pointed out basing evaluations on test performance doesn’t account for socio-economic status of students, parent involvement, test anxiety, and technology glitches while proponents highlight the importance of knowing how teachers are impacting individual students’ learning.

Teacher performance grants – Highly effective and effective teachers are eligible for a performance grant, a $30 million pot divided up among schools and their teachers based on ISTEP performance. Schools receive the following dollar amount in a lump sum and then can distribute to highly effective and effective teachers:

ISTEP+/ECA passing rates:

  •       72.5 – 90 percent — $23.50 per pupil
  •       90-100 percent — $47.00 per pupil
  •       Above 5 percent growth — $47.00 per pupil

Graduation rates:

  •       90-100 percent — $176 per pupil
  •       75-90 percent — $88 per pupil
  •       Above 5 percent growth — $176 per pupil


A press release from Governor Pence’s office highlighting the program notes grants must be distributed by December 5.

Charter school grants – Passed in the 2015 state budget, the controversial program provides low-interest loans to charter schools for capital projects like building construction as well as technology and transportation upgrades. Eligibility for the program is tied to a school’s A-F grade – schools receiving an A, B or C are automatically eligible as are schools in their first two years of operation or if the school’s A-F grade is higher than the closest similar public school.

How do the Common Core Standards affect this?

In a controversial 2013 vote, Republicans paused the implementation of the Common Core Standards putting schools that had begun transitioning curriculum, textbooks, lesson plans and materials to the new standards in an awkward and potentially costly position. The following year, Indiana officially pulled out of the Common Core Standards, sending educational officials scrambling to develop new standards and leaving schools with little guidance on what standards they would be required to teach to.

In April 2014, The Indiana State Board of Education approved the College and Career Ready Standards, leaving schools and teachers just weeks to develop lesson plans, purchase materials and familiarize themselves with the standards to which students they taught would be held to. Classes beginning in fall 2014 required the use of the new standards.

So how does last year’s ISTEP exam factor into all of this?   

The hasty transition to new standards forced modifications to the ISTEP assessment. The ISTEP exam given in spring 2015 included questions aligned to new College and Career Ready Standards and questions being tested for the 2016 exam. Since the ISTEP exam is also used to measure student growth year-to-year and as a contentious method of evaluating teachers, questions were included to determine what progress students have made.

All told, the length of the 2015 ISTEP exam ballooned to as long as 12 hours. Testimony during the February 4, 2015 meeting of the State Board of Education indicated the exam doubled in length and time spent in classrooms preparing nearly tripled. The Indiana General Assembly moved to shorten the test and the SBOE extended the ISTEP testing window. Students took the ISTEP exam over nearly a month-long period in 2015.

So ISTEP scores affect A-F grades, how does this affect my school?

Students felt the full effect this past spring, spending nearly a month completing portions of the ISTEP exam. As rescores are completed and results roll in, families, schools and communities will begin seeing the ripple effect of lower ISTEP scores surface in other areas.


Performance funding grants are based on ISTEP performance and growth. The IDOE is projecting a significant drop in scores, shifting schools’ passing rates down and wiping out any gains made by low-performing schools.

Consider the hypothetical example of a school with an ISTEP passage rate below 72.5 percent but one where students, teachers and parents committed to improving and upped their ISTEP pass rate by more than 5 percent in the 2013-2014 school year. Let’s assume the same school does not improve scores by 5 percent and is still below the 72.5 percent ISTEP passage rate in 2014-2015.

As a result of the rushed transition to new standards and more difficult exam, highly effective and effective teachers in an improving school would receive no performance funding.

Vouchers, intervention

It’s unknown whether students will become voucher-eligible if a school receives an “F” as a result of the 2015 ISTEP or whether the state will intervene in schools with five “F” grades prior to this year’s testing.

Community impact

Many communities take pride in their high-performing schools and Hoosiers often decide where to live based on factors like how good schools are. It’s difficult to predict the cost to communities that see their schools’ grades fall as a result of the 2015 ISTEP, let alone the mental toll scrambling to adjust to rushed standards and ISTEP difficulties will take on students, teachers and families.

On November 11, State Senator Mark Stoops unveiled a simple plan to hold students, teachers and schools harmless from the impact of widely-anticipated lower ISTEP scores.

[READ] Sen. Stoops’ letter to Senate President Pro-Tempore David Long making the case to hold schools harmless from falling ISTEP scores>>

[BILL DRAFT] Legislative language to hold schools harmless from falling ISTEP scores>>

Under Stoops’ bill, if a school’s ISTEP score and A-F grade improves in 2015, the school would be assigned that higher grade. If, as the IDOE is projecting – a school’s grade drops as a result of lower 2015 ISTEP scores, the school would fall no further than the A-F grade it received in the 2013-2014 school year.


PETITION: Add your name and tell Gov. Pence testing does not equal learning>>

Teacher performance funding would follow a similar pattern. If schools’ ISTEP scores improve, teachers would see their schools’ pot of performance funding increase. If schools’ ISTEP scores decreases, performance funding directed to schools would not drop below last year’s amount.

Stoops argued the Indiana General Assembly should take immediate action and had requested the Senate consider his bill on Organization Day, November 17. He reasoned that since lawmakers would not meet again before the December 5 deadline by when teacher funding must be distributed, legislators must act accordingly. His effort was blocked by Senate Republicans. The Governor and Statehouse Republicans have been silent on any plan going forward.

Parents have received their students’ initial 2015 ISTEPS scores and as many as 234,000 rescores have been requested. Final grades and schools’ A-F grades are expected in December 2015.


Echoing the sentiment of Senator Mark Stoops, this week Statehouse Republicans embraced a plan to hold schools harmless from flawed ISTEP results just under two months after Stoops released his plan.

READ Sen. Stoops: Our children, teachers and schools are more than just test scores>>

Under Republicans’ proposals, split between two bills, Senate Bill 200 and House Bill 1003, if a school’s ISTEP score and A-F grade improves in 2015, the school would be assigned that higher grade. If, as preliminary grades indicate – a school’s grade drops as a result of lower 2015 ISTEP scores, the school would fall no further than the A-F grade it received in the 2013-2014 school year. Teacher performance funding would follow a similar pattern. If schools’ ISTEP scores improve, teachers would see their schools’ pot of performance funding increase. If schools’ ISTEP scores decreases, performance funding directed to schools would not drop below last year’s amount.

The fast-tracked bills also minimize the impact of flawed 2014-2015 ISTEP scores have on teacher evaluations. Both bills cleared preliminary committee hearings this week and are expected to receive floor votes immediately, before crossing the rotunda to be approved in the opposing chamber.