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.

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