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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, September 07, 2017 1:00 am

Local districts discount ISTEP+

Voice their displeasure in spite of steady scores

ASHLEY SLOBODA and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

Standardized testing scores released Wednesday remained steady around the state, with Allen County's districts showing little variation from last year.

Districts made it clear that ISTEP+ doesn't fully reflect student performance. East Allen County Schools noted the test is just one assessment educators use to measure student growth, and Fort Wayne Community Schools indicated plans to create its own accountability system. A statement from Southwest Allen County Schools was especially blunt.

“ISTEP+ scores continue to produce results that do not align with any other measures of student performance SACS uses, are in no way useful for teachers, nor are they helpful to students and their parents,” Superintendent Phil Downs said in a statement.

“The waste of time and tax dollars involved in the ISTEP+ is even more obvious when one considers universities such as IPFW are no longer using ISTEP+ scores to determine whether a student is ready for dual credit courses.”

Statewide, almost 52 percent of students in grades 3-8 passed both the math and English language arts portions of the 2016-17 ISTEP+ test, which is virtually identical to last year.

Locally, two districts made slight gains. Northwest Allen County Schools had 66.7 percent of students passing both portions, up from 65.9 percent, and SACS had 64.6 percent pass, up from 63.4 percent.

FWCS dropped to 39.5 percent from 41.4 percent. EACS fell to 50.7 percent from 51.7 percent.

While districts experienced minimal changes in overall scores, more dramatic gains and losses happened within certain grade levels at individual buildings – in some instances by double digits.

“Our results are similar to the trends you see across the state,” FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson said in a statement. “Clearly, we all have more to do to ensure we are successfully implementing the state's academic standards, but we are seeing areas of success.”

The numbers are even lower for passing Grade 10 end-of-course assessments in English 10 and Algebra 1. Only 34 percent statewide passed both – up from 32 percent last year.

SACS led the county's districts in 10th-grade scores with 51.8 percent passing both subjects. NACS followed with 45.1 percent, EACS with 29 percent and FWCS with 23.6 percent.

State Board of Education member Tony Walker was concerned that only 37 percent of 10th-graders statewide passed the math exam.

“Is that reflective of the rigor of our standards or is there a problem with how we are testing it?” he asked. “For all practical purposes, two-thirds of those students are going to struggle in college.”

State board member David Freitas pointed out there are different cohorts of students taking the test with different potential abilities and achievement levels.

“It's dangerous to look at one year to the next,” he said. “It could be the test, could be the cohort, could be instruction.”

Robinson acknowledged testing results make headlines but said FWCS parents are more concerned about children's daily education.

“Moving forward, we will be developing our own accountability system, with the help of K12 Insight, to determine what success looks like for our students,” she said in a statement. “We know that one annual test does not define the success of our students, and we will be asking parents and community members to help us establish our own goals.”

Other statewide results include 63 percent of kids in fourth and sixth grades passing a science test and 63.5 percent of students in fifth and seventh grades passing social studies. Both were down slightly.

The test scores are the largest component in state and federal accountability and largely make up a school's A-to-F grade, which will come out later this year.

It is the third straight year with no major changes to the academic standards or the test.

There is only one more year of ISTEP+ before the state will transition to a new test called ILEARN. Lawmakers want the assessment to be shorter, given in one window and have results returned quickly. A request for proposals is out seeking a vendor to develop and implement the new test.

ILEARN, which will come on line in the 2018-19 school year, will include computer adaptive testing to better assess students' strengths and weaknesses.

EACS said it will continue to prepare students for their future, whether that includes college and career or other opportunities.

“As Indiana moves ahead with a new assessment, we will continue to monitor student growth and inform our instruction in order to provide students with the skills necessary to be successful in their future endeavors,” according to a statement from EACS.

NACS did not return requests for comment.