The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 06, 2016 5:48 am

ISTEP+ results fall in all districts

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

As predicted, ISTEP+ scores from last school year are lower than the year before, some dramatically lower. 

But the ISTEP+ scores released today for tests taken last spring will probably have little bearing on A-to-F accountability scores for schools and school districts, nor will they be the linchpin to teacher evaluations.

Indiana educators and legislators from both sides of the aisle seem to agree that accountability for the test scores should be put on hold while the state works out kinks in testing and grading.

In spring 2014, 83.5 percent of Hoosier students in grades 3 through 8 passed the math portion, while 80.7 percent passed the English language part.

Compare that to the most recent statewide passing rates from last spring: 61 percent for math and 67.3 percent for English language.

"These results and the delay in their release are additional examples of the flawed accountability system in our state," said Wendy Robinson, Fort Wayne Community Schools superintendent.

"We are a month away from starting another round of ISTEP+ testing, and we are just now getting the results from a year ago – results that have had no impact on the instruction going on in our classrooms all year because the information was not available," she said in a statement Tuesday.

"We are more concerned at this point with the new test students will be taking next month, which was produced by a different testing company and will fall under a new accountability system," Robinson continued.

"We need to get serious about creating an accountability system that parents, students and educators find meaningful. 

"It is important to remember that these results reflect a baseline year as students took a new test based on new state standards. These results cannot be compared to prior years," Robinson added.

ISTEP+, the tests administered in third through eighth grades that measure skills in math, English, social studies and science – depending on the grade – are often referred to as high-stakes testing.

Not only do the tests go into the formula for grading individual schools and school districts, they are also used for teacher evaluations.

For months, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, has called for an accountability pause, something half the states in the nation have already signed on to as part of a federal offer to give states breathing space when it comes to these standardized tests.

Now the other side of the aisle has come on board and proposed legislation that will give the Hoosier testing apparatus time to re-evaluate the testing, scoring and grading.

Senate Bill 200, introduced by state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, mandates that a school’s A-F accountability grade could not be lower than the year before as a result of ISTEP+ test scores. It would, however, be allowed to rise.

Republican state Rep. Bob Behning of Indianapolis filed a bill that bars schools from using ISTEP+ scores and A-F accountability grades as part of this year’s teacher evaluations.

Both bills will be the subject of legislative hearings today in Indianapolis. 

As they take a year for re-evaluation, legislators and test makers might consider finding time to interview the test takers.

For instance, Portage Middle School student Amaya Doehrman said that when it came to taking the ISTEP+ tests last spring, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Even though the preparation took "the longest time," said Amaya, now in the eighth grade, the teachers prepared them really well.

"ISTEP+ though, it was really confusing. Like some of the questions, like the way they would word them. Like they didn’t really give us enough time to do some of the problems," Amaya said.

Amaya, her friend and neighbor Alyza Dewart and Amaya’s brother Dayton Letner felt as though the teachers worried more than the students.

But the three students think the tests are a good idea, even if they are a little long.

Portage Middle School had one of the wildly plunging scores when it came to passing math rates for seventh-graders, a test that Amaya and Alyza would have taken. In spring 2014, Portage seventh-graders passed the math test at a rate of 67.9 percent; in 2015, that rate was 28.3 percent.

Not quite as drastic were the passing scores for English language: in 2014, 63.7 percent of Portage seventh-graders passed the test; last year, 45.3 percent of seventh-graders passed.

No school district was spared.

At Lafayette Meadow, usu­ally a high-performing ele­mentary school in the Southwest Allen County Schools district, the passing rate for the third-grade English language ISTEP+ test was 95.7 percent in 2014. In 2015, it fell to 82.7 percent.

Likewise, Lafayette Mea­dow third-graders last year passed the math portion at a rate of 87.1 percent; this year, that rate fell to 64.2 percent.

Third-graders at Eel River Elementary School in Northwest Allen County Schools passed the English language portion last year at a rate of 94.9 percent. This year, it slipped to 89 percent. The math passing rate discrepancy was even greater: 97.5 percent in 2014 to 86.6 percent this year. 

While Allen County edu­cators did not want to comment on scores not released publicly until this morning, SACS Superintendent Philip Downs did comment Tuesday on the General Assembly’s efforts to equalize the discrepancies.

"Like a lot of compromises, Senate Bill 200 is the best of many worst cases," Downs wrote in an email response. "I appreciate the bipartisan effort in Indianapolis to try to make things right for teachers and girls and boys in Indiana."


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