- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana will cut about three hours from the testing time for the standardized exam thousands of students will soon begin taking by eliminating some questions under a plan announced Friday by the state’s top schools official.

State schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz told the State Board of Education on Friday that her Department of Education could cut about 2 ½ hours from the language arts section of this year’s ISTEP+ exams and 40 minutes from mathematics sections by reducing the number of pilot questions, which are being reviewed for us in future tests.

The moves come after parents and educators protested testing times for the exam that had doubled to about 12 hours under a redesign to align with new state standards created after Indiana withdrew from the national Common Core standards last year.

Ritz told board members that she believed the changes, made in consultation with two outside experts hired by Gov. Mike Pence, could be implemented before about 450,000 students in grades 3 through 8 begin taking the tests this month.

“I want to bring clarity to it,” she said. “I want to make sure that we’re reducing the test at the same time we’re going to have validity and reliability.”

Pence called the actions “welcome news” and said in a statement that he was “especially grateful for the efforts of our testing experts who were able to quickly recommend ways to significantly shorten the test and lessen the burden on our kids, parents and teachers.”

The annual ISTEP+ exam measures student growth. Its scores are used to grade schools, evaluate teachers and determine their pay.

The state had hoped to use this year as a transition for the new test, but the U.S. Department of Education rejected that request. As a result, the new exam includes pilot questions, which state education officials say will now be split up so students face half as many.

Edward Roeber, one of the consultants hired by Pence, said the test should still be reliable, and he called Ritz’s planned changes a “substantial reduction” in testing time from the previous 12-hour level.

“My goal was to get to a single digit, instead of double digits, and we’ll accomplish that,” he said.

Ritz said she would seek to cut an additional hour in testing time for grades 5 and 7 by suspending the social studies portion of the exam. That will require approval from the General Assembly.

Ritz also proposed a one-year suspension of using the ISTEP+ results for school and teacher evaluations, but board members voted to remove that from the meeting agenda. Pence and Republican legislative leaders had said they wouldn’t support such action.

Friday’s action follows a week of squabbling among Ritz’s Department of Education, the governor’s office and legislative leaders about the exam’s length.

Dan Elsener, a board member appointed by Pence, said he was glad the governor stepped in to push for changes and that problems with the length should have been addressed earlier.

“There’s been a big leadership void that put a lot of people through a lot of angst that did not have to happen,” said Elsener, who is president of Marian University in Indianapolis.

Ritz said she and her staff have been working since last week on ways to cut down the exam length, which wasn’t determined until late January.

“We’ve been doing yeoman’s work with our vendors to get this totally accomplished,” she said.

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