Testing

Indiana bucks the test score trend and posts a second straight year of declines

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Find our all our stories and databases on the 2016 ISTEP test results, as well as other testing coverage, here.

The number of Indiana students passing the state math and reading test fell for the second straight year in 2016 — even as more schools saw their passing rates inch up.

Across the state, 51.6 percent of students in grades 3-8 passed both exams, down from 53.5 percent in 2015. That was when tougher standards caused test scores across the state to plummet, leaving just four schools out of 1,500 across the state with any test score gains at all.

This year, 494 schools saw their passing rates improve. And far fewer schools experienced the double-digit drops that were present for 93 percent of schools in 2015.

But the state did not see the test score gains that many hoped would come as students and teachers adjust to the new standards. Steep declines are common when tests change dramatically, but researchers have found that scores typically begin to climb again quickly.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz pointed out today that the 2016 exam had a new vendor for the first time in 20 years — the state switched to British-based Pearson after a series of difficult testing administrations with CTB. (This year’s testing was less glitchy but not problem-free.) That could help explain the decline, she said.

“Transitions are never easy,” Ritz said in a statement. “It is important to remember that our students, schools and teachers are more than just a test score.”

Across the state, students continued to fare better on English tests than on math. Two-thirds of students passed the English ISTEP test in grades 3-8, down slightly from 67.3 percent in 2015. In math, 58.9 percent of students passed, compared to 61 percent in 2015.

In the first year for the new 10th-grade ISTEP test, 59 percent of 10th-graders passed English, 34.6 percent math, and 32.2 percent of students passed both exams.

Indiana is in the middle of replacing ISTEP altogether. It’s not clear how different a new exam, which could be given as soon as 2018, would be from what the state uses currently — or if it would be much different at all.

How Marion County districts performed

Speedway schools had the highest test scores in the county, with 61.8 percent of students in grades 3-8 passing both English and math, compared to 60.4 percent in 2015. Franklin Township followed closely with 60.2 percent of students passing both subjects, down from 65.8 percent in 2015.

Indianapolis Public Schools had the lowest number of students passing both subjects, with 25.3 percent in 2016, down from 29 percent in 2015.

Franklin Township posted the highest high school scores, with 44.6 percent of 10th-graders passing both English and math. Washington Township came next, with 34.9 percent of students passing.

Indianapolis Public Schools had the lowest passing rate among 10th-graders passing both subjects at 9.9 percent.

rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.