Ninth and 10th graders in Indiana could next year be required to take a new college and career-ready ISTEP exam the state is planning to give.

That was one of several ideas debated today at an Education Roundtable meeting for how to overhaul ISTEP to make it better fit new state standards.

And when it came to third grade reading, Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz sharply disagreed about whether the ISTEP should measure students’ reading skills in the future.

Led by Pence and Ritz, the Roundtable offers guidance to the Indiana State Board of Education on state exams. Indiana’s contract with the company that adminsters ISTEP, CTB/McGraw-Hill, expires this week and the state is working toward a complete overhaul of the test.

Among the suggestions recommended today by Education Roundtable to change in 2015-16 include:

  • Mandatory tests in grades 3 to 10; ISTEP is given now in grades 3 to 8.
  • Optional tests for kindergarten to second grade.
  • Phasing out 10th grade “end of course” tests for Algebra 1 and 10th grade English.
  • Optional college- or workplace-readiness tests for students in grades 11 and 12.

Some Roundtable members were concerned that the focus of the meeting seemed to be on testing in 2015-16 and beyond. Educators across the state are anxious about the upcoming school year’s ISTEP exam, they argued. That test is expected to be harder because it will test a new standard: whether kids are ready for college or to begin work. CTB/McGraw-Hill will work with the state under a contract extension to develop next spring’s ISTEP exam.

Indiana must deliver an ISTEP test in the spring that aligns with its new standards, approved by the legislature this spring as an alternative to Common Core. That’s because of a 2012 agreement it made with the U.S. Department of Education to have new standards, and begin testing them, in 2015.

It gives educators less than a year to prepare for the new test, which will affect their own performance evaluations, and the A to F grades of the schools where they work. They will have some help from the state in the form of sample math problems, suggested reading lists and guides, which were also presented to the Roundtable today.

Ritz’s suggestion, which came earlier this month, the state seek to “pause” A-F accountability, fell flat. Pence reiterated today what he told U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a letter earlier this month — that he is committed to “preserving our accountability system in a fair and equitable way.”

The state is just beginning its process to decide which company will make Indiana’s test for 2015-16 and beyond. So far six vendors have expressed interest.

Ritz asked the Roundtable to vote to agree that future ISTEP exams cover reading by measuring student growth rather than simply whether they can pass or fail. This will allow teachers to better meet student needs, she argued.

“It’s so vital,” Ritz said. “We just have to have that information.”

That led to a prickly debate with Pence, who opposed Ritz’s proposed amendment.

Pence said he did not want to undermine the IREAD3 test, which started in 2012 and is given to all third-graders. He also didn’t want to add more time to the ISTEP test.

He called on the Roundtable to “rise to oppose the amendment.”  They did: it failed 18 to 9.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said it was inappropriate for Ritz and Pence to ask the rest of the Roundtable to choose sides on the issue.

“Parents and teachers are all looking for us to work together,” said Rogers, saying there was “certainly no place” for that kind of discord at Education Roundtable.

Some Roundtable members said they were inclined to support Ritz, but wanted more time to think about it.

Ritz also clashed with state board member Dan Elsener during the Roundtable meeting. Elsener wanted to know why guides to help teachers adjust to the new standards was late arriving, in his view. The education department produced the materials, which include sample math problems, sample reading lists and other guidance, to help educators adjust to teaching the new standards.

But education department officials said the guides were unfinished and would evolve over time as more teachers saw and commented on them. Elsener said they were supposed to be presented to the state board earlier this month but that meeting was canceled.

“We’ve been very concerned about the roll out,” Elsener said. “The general concern is, are we behind and how do we get up to speed in implementing this in a way that’s acceptable to us, the educators and the people with high standards?”

Ritz the guides were going to be posted online and later explained to educators in person.

“We just have to hit a button and these are going to be live (on the website),” Ritz said. “Teachers are very used to this process as standards are rolled out.”

Elsener wasn’t pleased.

“I appreciate your enthusiasm,” he said, “but I don’t see it in the documentation.”