iSTEP – The “Standardized” Test that is not so Standardized

The expectation is that something that is standardized would be the same for all those that deal with it.

In the last few months, I’ve attended school board meetings (HSE) as well as a Listening Tour put on by our school superintendent. In these meetings, there have been a lot of questions and many answers regarding the iStep tests. The result of this information is that it is clear that the execution of the iSTEP test does not lead to the level of standardization that one would expect across the state of Indiana. In other words, the iSTEP test is not very standardized.

While Wikipedia is not the ultimate resource, it does define “standardize test” as follows:

“A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or ‘standard’, manner. Standardized tests are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner.”

The iSTEP is believed to be standardized, and thus it is positioned to be used in evaluating teaches as well as determining if kids should progress or have remedial work done. Unfortunately, issues have been raised that draw into question whether the iSTEP really is standardized. I’ll address the two that break the concept of being a standard test:

  • Computer versus paper Testing
  • Consistent questions

Computer versus Paper Testing

Kids took the test on paper or a computer. Not all kids used the same medium for taking the test. While you could argue that reading a question on the computer is not that much different, with the current iSTEP the computer program is enhanced. This will therefore differ how questions are asked on the computer from how they are asked on paper. The end result is that the computer enhanced test is not delivered in a manner constant with the paper test.

Consistent Questions

A standardized test would ask all kids the same questions. According to what was stated at the HSE School Board meeting, two different forms were used on the test. Additionally, these two forms had questions that were different. As such, the idea of consistent questions was violated for some of the kids taking the test. Even if the differing questions are not a part of the scoring, the questions that are different would impact the thinking of the child taking the test – a ‘butterfly effect’. Having two different forms with different questions completely shatters the idea of standardized.

It would be hard to argue that the student taking the enhanced computer test in a quiet room is getting measured equivalently to the person taking the paper test in a classroom with others around. When you add that it was noted that there were issues of consistency this past year with questions on the paper test also being different from the computerized test, the delta becomes even greater. The end result is that the iSTEP fails to pass the definition of a standardized test.