Testing Testing

Nearly all Indiana schools see ISTEP scores plunge

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Shocking drops in ISTEP scores have lawmakers scrambling to protect schools and teachers from sanctions.

Here’s how badly Indiana’s schools did on the new ISTEP: Just four of 1,500 public schools that took the 2015 exam had more kids pass than the year before.

Passing rates sank on nearly every measure after the test was retooled to match tougher standards the state adopted in 2014. In all, 93 percent of public schools that took the test the last two years saw their passing rates drop by at least 10 percentage points. Half of schools saw a drop of 20 percentage points or more.

Almost half of all kids who took the test failed math, English or both. Statewide, the percentage of students who passed both English and math nose-dived by 22 percentage points to 53.5 percent.

Under the prior version of ISTEP, the passing percentage had been going up by a percentage point or two each year for the past three years.

The statewide passing percentage for English tumbled down 13 points in 2015 to 67 percent and math fell 22 points to 61 percent passing. Both were close to the decline the Indiana Department of Education had predicted. The tests are not directly comparable to each other because they are so different, but the data shows the new test is clearly much harder.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s warnings of huge drops to come helped spur a reluctant Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders this week to promise to rush a bill that would exempt teachers and schools from consequences for newly low scores.

ISTEP is the backbone of an accountability system that can block teachers from pay raises if their students’ scores don’t rise and sever schools from their school districts under state takeover when they receive years of consecutive F-grades.

But not this year.

A senate bill with broad support would prevent school’s A-F grades from going lower than the grades they received last year and shield teachers from consequences of poor scores earned by their students.

In short, after a long bumpy ride that saw problems with ISTEP’s design, administration and scoring, the state’s schools are getting a mulligan.

That will be a relief to many.

Ritz decried years of changing expectations for students, teachers and schools, but she said they could now build up from this new “benchmark.”

“My top priority is the educational, social and emotional well-being of Hoosier students,” she said in a statement. “That is why I believe that is it time for Indiana to move away from the costly, lengthy, pass/fail ISTEP assessment. The one-size-fits-all high stakes approach of the ISTEP needs to end.”

When it came to the schools that struggled the most with the new ISTEP, many of them were in Marion County.

Four of the 10 schools with the deepest drops in their passing rates were from IPS, and one was from Pike Township.

The passing percentage for IPS School 56, which last year ranked among the best in the district at 82.7 percent, fell a whopping 55 percentage points, the worst in the state. This year just 27.9 percent of its students passed.

Another IPS school, Cold Springs School, wasn’t far behind. At 29.1 percent passing, it fell 48 percentage points from 2014, the second biggest drop in the state.

Pike Township’s Snacks Crossing Elementary School was third worst, down 47 percentage points to 24.8 percent passing, and Harshman Middle School of IPS had the state’s ninth biggest drop, down 43 percentage points to 21 percent passing.

Just four schools in the state saw a greater percentage of students pass ISTEP in 2015 than the prior year — Tindley Renaissance charter school, Eminence High School in Morgan County, IPS School 107 and a juvenile justice center in South Bend. Two of them were helped because they were recovering from big drops in 2014.

IPS School 107, for example, saw a big decline in scores in 2014, with a pass rate 16 percentage points below the prior year. Scores at School 107 rebounded slightly in 2015. Although just 34 percent of students passed, the rate was up 6.7 points over the year before despite the tougher new exam. That was the state’s second biggest gain.

The numbers for the lowest-scoring schools were bleak. In 2015 there were 18 schools had fewer than 10 percent of their students pass ISTEP, including six IPS schools. There were just three such schools statewide in 2014.

Even so, IPS did have the state’s top-scoring school again.

Like last year, Sidener Gifted Academy, a celebrated IPS magnet school for students who are identified as gifted, was the top-rated public school in the state, although its passing rate fell slightly to 95.5 percent passing from 100 percent in 2014.

Sidener wasn’t the only top-scoring school that remained among the state’s highest-scorers even after a dip in its passing rate.

In fact, despite all the changes to ISTEP, many of the usual suspects could be found among the best- and worst-scoring schools.

Including Sidener, six of the top 10 public schools from 2014 were back in the top 10 again. Five of the top 10 were from the wealthy Indianapolis suburbs of Carmel and Zionsville. If anything, those districts were even more dominant on the new ISTEP.

For 2016, ISTEP is set for even more changes. The British-based company Pearson has taken over creating the test after more than a decade with CTB/McGraw-Hill. And the test is supposed to include even more sophisticated technology, creating new ways for students to show how they arrived at their answers.

Pearson’s contract runs through 2017. After that, a growing number of lawmakers have raised the idea of scrapping the exam altogether in favor of a shared national exam that students also take in other states.

 

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County