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Ind. Senate Panel Kills a Pair of Statewide Assessments

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An Indiana Senate committee last week killed a controversial statewide testing program as well as its proposed replacement.

Supporters of the Indiana Performance Assessment for Student Success were hoping that a new name and some other modifications would give new life to the program's fight for survival in the Republican-controlled Senate. But the proposed replacement, which would have been called the "Indiana Academic Skill Test," was defeated too, dealing a double defeat to Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh, who has strongly backed ipass since he signed it into law three years ago.

"Senate Republicans balked and didn't want to support anything that had to do with ipass," said Sen. John R. Sinks, the chairman of the Senate education committee.

The first round of ipass testing was scheduled to begin in the fall and would have taken the place of the current program, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress.

Ipass was designed to more thoroughly evaluate student competence in mathematics, reading, and writing by replacing earlier standardized tests with a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions. A high school exit test called the "Gateway Exam," also a part of the ipass tests, was to be given to students as sophomores.

Costs Questioned

In response to continued complaints about the cost and the subjective nature of ipass, House members earlier this year voted to delay the program for one year along with a two-year delay for the exit exam.

In the weeks since, members of the Governor's staff, the education department, and the Senate were involved in negotiations that came up with the compromise proposal for the replacement test.

That compromise test, a combination of multiple-choice, essay, and short-answer questions, contained virtually the same components as ipass. It also would have included a nationally norm-referenced section that could have been used to compare Indiana students' performance with that of their peers in other states.

Also as part of the compromise, a "test committee" appointed by the education department, the Governor, and the legislature would have been created to review test items. The proposed test would not have been given until 1996, though schools would have been allowed to give the test this coming fall as a trial run.

Although there was general agreement that the new test seemed like a good compromise, opponents of the exam and members of the Senate panel found little incentive to bend.

Lawmakers' constituents were never in agreement on the concept and cost of any revamped test, according to Senator Sinks.

In addition to the cost of developing the new test, state officials originally budgeted $100 million to cover remediation and teacher training under ipass. Even when officials cut that amount in half last week in an effort to salvage the compromise test, costs were still an overriding concern, said Joe DiLaura, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.

Protest Marches

Critics who rallied in two recent protest marches in Indianapolis argued that the use of essay and short-answer questions would make it difficult to grade the tests objectively.

"People were looking at other states and their assessments and trouble that they had," said Senator Sinks.

As the debate drew to a close last week, the support from schools backing ipass was not enough to save the Senate bill. Officials said that a slim chance remains that the compromise replacement could be attached to a separate education bill.

"We are still optimistic," said a spokesman for Mr. Bayh. "The Governor will work hard to create higher standards."

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