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Student progress tracked over years

The Indiana Department of Education Monday released data using a new method to track student achievement based on student performance on multiple years of the state proficiency test known as ISTEP+.

Several area schools and school districts were singled out for success under the system, called “Academic Growth.”

Two elementary schools in Fort Wayne Community Schools showed some of the highest academic growth in Allen County. Students in Adams Central Community Schools, North Adams Community Schools and South Adams Schools showed some of the highest growth in math in the state, while students in Whitley County Consolidated Schools achieved some of the highest growth in language arts.

The Indiana growth model is a new system that uses ISTEP+ scores to measure how much students learn in math and language arts over the course of a year.

Unlike other assessments, the model measures students based on how much they raise their proficiency test scores, not by how well they perform on one test.

The model has been championed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who believes it could provide a better way to hold districts accountable for student achievement. He has also said the model can help teachers understand students’ strengths and weaknesses, thereby helping to close the achievement gap – the difference between minority and white students’ passing rates on proficiency tests.

The new system measures growth in mathematics and English/language arts for students in grades three through eight. It groups students with peers who begin at similar levels of achievement to determine relative growth over time. Each student is then assigned a student growth percentile, which is labeled as low, typical or high growth.

High growth applies to students in the 66th to the 99th percentile, typical growth applies to students in the 35th to the 65th percentile, and low growth applies to students from the first to the 34th percentile.

This year’s data relied on ISTEP+ scores from the 2009-10 and 2008-09 school years.

About 63 percent of students at Waynedale Elementary showed “high growth” in their language arts test scores, according to the department. At Adams Elementary, about 66 percent of students showed high growth in math.

At a school board meeting Monday, Superintendent Wendy Robinson called the model “a work in progress” and a “step in the right direction.”

“The concept of measuring growth is an excellent concept, and it’s an excellent concept for a district where continuous improvement is what we plan to do,” Robinson said.

She said some aspects of the model, which uses complicated formulas to track growth, had changed in recent weeks.

“I’m not yet sure we can explain it,” Robinson said.

Indiana’s growth model has not yet been approved for use as an accountability tool, according to the Department of Education website. Lauren Auld, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said more will likely be known about the process after the new legislative session begins.

FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said the growth model could “level the playing field” in terms of school and districtwide accountability.

“It makes sense,” she said. “Obviously, not all of schools are yet performing at the same level as others schools throughout the state. It isn’t really fair to compare two districts that are completely unalike in their makeup. What does make sense is to look at, ‘Are our students growing?’ ”