Struggling Students Terrorized by ISTEP

Struggling Students Terrorized by ISTEP

Over the last 30 years, I have had the opportunity to see progression in the educational system and observe how we have tried to get a handle on the accountability component. Several years ago, educators and government officials implemented a state-wide testing process called ISTEP to collect baseline data and track educational progress. Until that time, all progress depended on third party assessments like SAT, CTBS, etc., and local teachers’ assessments (grades recorded on report cards). ISTEP has allowed local schools and the Indiana Department of Education gather some common data to compare and track student progress. Many people are critical of the process, but I have yet to see a better idea. Still, there are serious issues with struggling students and ISTEP.

After taking a test on multiple occasions from K-12, it doesn’t take long for students who are not meeting state standards to begin losing hope. We talk about passing the ISTEP regularly and, as educators, we constantly develop instructional strategies which sends an ongoing message that if you don’t pass the ISTEP Graduation Qualifying Exam (GQE), you will never graduate from high school. By the time our students are in high school, this test screams FAILURE at the highest level. Struggling students despise the word ISTEP because the recurring message to them is that if they don’t pass this test, they will not graduate. In other words, this “monster” will determine whether they can be successful in life or live in poverty – it will determine their status in society and who they hang with – it will determine their identity. After hearing and seeing this story line, it is no wonder our struggling students go ballistic on ISTEP testing days.

At the Crossing, on any given day during ISTEP testing, a student will stand up and walk out of the room cursing at the top of his voice. He may even say hurtful things to the very teacher who has been assisting him in preparing for this test. It is not even uncommon for our students to get physically aggressive with others due to their strong frustration about passing the ISTEP exam.

ISTEP week at the Crossing is a great struggle. We pray more, love more, encourage more, provide snacks and water and do everything in our power to minimize the anxiety. Furthermore, it is a general practice on our part to not talk about ISTEP during the year. We don’t want to send the recurring message to our students that life is all about one test. Our focus will remain on teaching to the state standards and maintaining strong relationships with our students to give them hope. As a result, we have students who are passing the ISTEP when others believed it would never happen. Let’s continue to focus on education and loving our students and building hope into their lives, and the end result will be positive ISTEP performance. Let’s also remember to remind our students that there is still hope, even if they don’t pass ISTEP, thanks to universities like Ivy Tech and Vincennes. A student can still enroll, take remedial classes, and fall back into the educational track if they pursue the options offered by our community colleges.