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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Superintendent Wendy Robinson speaks Wednesday about ISTEP+ results.

Tardy ISTEP in; relevance weighed

Schools unclear on mixed results after test errors

After months of delays and controversy over ISTEP+ scores, school administrators are now asking the next question – how much weight should the results carry?

The spring statewide and school-level ISTEP+ scores were made public Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Education.

The data, which is usually released during the summer, was held after a report found that about 80,000 students in third through eighth grade had at least one part of the computerized test interrupted last spring.

The test was administered by CTB/McGraw Hill.

Northwest Allen County Schools and East Allen County Schools saw scores improving slightly, while Fort Wayne Community Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools had a slight dip in scores.

Although some local schools are pleased to see improvements, they are left wondering how well students might have done without the disruptions.

Southwest Allen County Schools, which saw a 0.1 percent decline in overall student scores, is among those concerned about how accurate the scores are.

"We have some specific areas and buildings where we saw a big drop and those are the areas that were exactly square in the face of the shutdowns during the test," Associate Superintendent Philip Downs said.

For example, third-grade math students at Covington Elementary saw lower scores in both the English/language arts and math portions of the text.

"This is the first time these kids are taking the test, and they were testing on the first day when everything shut down," Downs said.

"The results are much lower than we've ever seen before, and we know it's not those kids."

Downs said that even the students not directly affected by the system freezing up or shutting down were ultimately disrupted and their test scores were likely affected.

"I know there are families out there that are going to be beating themselves up over this one day when someone was supposed to provide a service but didn't do it well," he said.

" ... And that's disappointing."

Students at Fort Wayne Community Schools also scored lower on the spring test, bringing the total passing rate to 66.6 percent – down 0.3 percent from the previous year.

"Being very blunt, this is very anti-climatic because there's not a lot that we are going to do with anything we are receiving from the state right now impacting the beginning of school," Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

The FWCS school board and administration have expressed concerns about the testing environment and the effect it would have on the district's scores since the issues began, Robinson said.

"Probably the most succinct thing I can say about our results is I can't even begin to describe a trend because there is not a clear trend in our data," she said.

Robinson said a section of the results involving sixth-grade students who took the test by pencil and paper rather than online showed perhaps the most interesting pattern.

The district had requested special permission from the state to allow the students to take the test all on paper because there were not enough computers available for all students.

Yet, they are also the only grade level whose scores went up in the same pattern, Robinson said.

"The only grade level that we had that continues the trend that we've been on for the last three years is the grade level that was not online," she said.

After the tests were completed, the district was given a list of 1,400 students the state believed were interrupted during the test, according to Robinson.

The district responded with a list of 5,200 students it said had been disrupted.

"About a week ago, I received a list back that said out of all of those students, only 56 ... tests would be discounted," she said.

East Allen County Schools Superintendent Ken Folks said although the district's 1 percent increase is welcomed, he would love to see greater gains in the coming year.

"It does vary school by school. It's sort of a mixed bag," Folks said.

"Some of the schools we are really delighted with the scores and some of them we saw scores that were a little lower than expected," he said.

Unlike other districts, EACS students didn't have as many issues with interruptions, Folks said.

"We were fortunate in our district that we waited until day three to do the online testing, and it seemed like day one and two had the major issues," said Kurt Dager, the district's data integration specialist.

"Those students whose tests had to be invalidated were very minimal."

Northwest Allen County Schools saw a 2.1 percent increase in students' scores, up from 83.1 percent the previous year.

NACS officials did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Charter schools

Two of the city's charter schools struggled with low scores during the spring ISTEP+ test.

Less than half of the students at Smith Academy for Excellence passed both sections of the test with 29 percent of eighth-graders passing and 27 percent of seventh-graders passing.

In addition, 50 percent of the school's sixth-graders passed both sections of the test.

Many Timothy L. Johnson Academy students also failed to pass both sections of the test.

Although fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students saw an increase in scores of students passing both tests in 2012, students in grades 3 and 4 had a lower passing rate, and the overall scores remained low.

Among third-grade students, 33 percent passed both sections of the test, and the district's fourth-grade students had a 31 percent pass rate.

Last year, the school reported a 50 percent pass rate for third-graders and a 33 percent pass rate for students in fourth grade.

School leaders were not available for comment Wednesday.

Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy did not have complete results available, according to Department of Education data.

Due to federal privacy laws, student performance data might not be displayed for any group of fewer than 10 students.