Testing Testing

Indianapolis high schools struggled on the 2016 ISTEP test, but these 10 were on top

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

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

Indiana high school students took the ISTEP test for the first time this year — and most posted abysmal scores.

In Marion County, even the schools with the highest number of students passing saw nearly half of their students fail, which means that thousands of Indianapolis students could be headed toward graduation without the skills they need to succeed in college in careers.

But there were a few standouts that outperformed the rest of the pack on the new test, a 10th grade ISTEP, which this year replaced subject-specific exams in Algebra I, freshman English and biology as a measure of school performance.

Three charter schools topped the list, including one surprising contender — a recovery high school designed to support students dealing with addiction. The rest of the schools were primarily in township districts, where schools tend to be more racially and socioeconomically balanced and better-funded.

Just one Indianapolis Public Schools high school made the top 10 list. The magnet school serves students with a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is designed to prepare kids for a “global world” by teaching them to think critically, use research, ask probing questions and get involved in their communities.

We included school demographics because research shows that schools with more white and affluent students tend to do better on standardized tests. That means the schools with more low-income kids are the ones to watch.

These are the 10 Marion County public high schools with the highest ISTEP passing rates:  

Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School. This charter school, part of the six-school Tindley charter network, saw 57 percent of its students pass both English and math ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 94.6 percent black, 3.1 percent multiracial, 1.5 percent white.
  • 68.5 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Herron High School. At this charter school, a highly sought-after charter school on the near northside known for its liberal arts curriculum, 51.3 percent of students passed both tests.

Demographics:

  • 61.6 percent white, 23.5 percent black, 7.5 percent multiracial, 4.8 percent Hispanic, 2.2 percent Asian.
  • 35 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Hope Academy. This charter school, which serves students recovering from addiction, had 50 percent of students pass both exams.

Demographics:

  • 71.4 percent white, 10.7 percent multiracial, 10.7 percent Hispanic, 3.6 percent black, 3.6 percent Asian.
  • 46.4 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Franklin Central High School. This Franklin Township school saw 44.6 percent of kids passing the English and math tests.

Demographics:

  • 77.9 percent white, 7 percent black, 6.3 percent Hispanic, 4.8 percent multiracial, 3.5 percent Asian.
  • 34.1 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

North Central High School. At this Washington Township school, 34.9 percent of students passed the exams.

Demographics:

  • 41 percent black, 35.2 percent white, 13.5 percent Hispanic, 6.2 percent multiracial, 4.1 percent Asian.
  • 47.8 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Speedway Senior High School. This Speedway school saw 28.4 percent of students pass both tests.

Demographics:

  • 56 percent white, 21.6 percent black, 11.7 percent Hispanic, 5.6 percent multiracial, 5.1 percent Asian.
  • 51.9 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Shortridge High School. The only Indianapolis Public Schools high school to make the top 10 list, this IB magnet school saw 26.9 percent of its students passed the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 44.7 percent black, 27.2 percent white, 20.1 percent Hispanic, 6.6 percent multiracial,
  • 52.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Lawrence North High School. At this township school, 25 percent students passed both ISTEP English and math tests.

Demographics:

  • 44.4 percent black, 31.8 percent white, 15.5 percent Hispanic, 6.4 percent multiracial, 1.8 percent Asian.
  • 54.8 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Pike High School. At this township school, 24.6 percent of students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 62.6 percent black, 18.9 percent Hispanic, 9.7 percent white, 6.6 percent multiracial, 2.2 percent Asian.
  • 58.1 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Southport High School. This high school in Perry Township saw 23.7 percent of students pass the exams.

Demographics:

  • 57.9 percent white, 16.2 Asian, 13.4 Hispanic, 7 percent black, 5.5 percent multiracial.
  • 60.4 percent percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Testing Testing

“ILEARN” is in, ISTEP is out — Indiana legislature approves test set to begin in 2019. Now awaiting governor’s OK.

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

A little more than a year ago, lawmakers made the dramatic call to “repeal” the state’s beleaguered ISTEP test without a set alternative.

Friday night, they finally decided on a plan for what should replace it.

The “ILEARN” testing system in House Bill 1003 passed the House 68-29 and passed the Senate 39-11. Next, the bill will go to Gov. Eric Holcomb for him to sign into law.

The new test would be used for the first time in 2019, meaning ISTEP still has one more year of life. In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Education will be tasked with developing the new test and finding a vendor. Currently, the state contracts with the British test writing company Pearson.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said he was very pleased with the compromise, which he thinks could result in a short, more effective test — although many of those details will depend on the final test writer.

However, a number of Democrats, and even some Republicans, expressed frustration with the testing proposal.

“The federal government requires us to take one test,” said Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis. “Why we continue to add more and more to this, I have no idea.”

For the most part, the test resembles what was recommended by a group of educators, lawmakers and policymakers charged with studying a test replacement. There would be a new year-end test for elementary and middle school students, and High schools would give end-of-course exams in 10th grade English, ninth-grade biology, and algebra I.

An optional end-of-course exam would be added for U.S. government, and the state would be required to test kids in social studies once in fifth or eighth grade.

It’s not clear if the plan still includes state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick’s suggestion to use an elementary and middle school test that would be “computer-adaptive” and adjust difficulty based on students’ answers.

The plan does make potentially significant changes to the state’s graduation requirements. Rather than having ECAs count as the “graduation exam,” the bill would create a number of graduation pathways that the Indiana State Board of Education would flesh out. Options could include the SAT, ACT, industry certifications, or the ASVAB military entrance exam.

Test researchers who have come to speak to Indiana lawmakers have cautioned against such a move, as many of these measures were not designed to determine high school graduation.

While teacher evaluations would still be expected to include test scores in some way, the bill gives some flexibility to districts as to specifically how to incorporate them, said Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican and the bill’s author.

Currently, law says ISTEP scores must “significantly inform” evaluations, but districts use a wide range of percentages to fit that requirement.

You can find all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here.

Starting early

It’s not just older students. Tennessee second-graders also started testing this week in nearly 100 districts

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

When LaRita Mitchell was a third-grade teacher, she often found her students were starting behind. They were just beginning to work with multiplication tables when the state’s standards assumed they’d already mastered them. They hadn’t yet encountered division.

“We noticed things that we thought were taught in second grade were not, and we could see a huge gap,” said Mitchell, who works at Sherwood Elementary in Memphis.

Then, Mitchell switched to teaching second grade, and she understood why her students’ had gaps in knowledge. “Second grade used to be more like first grade on steroids,” she said. “Third grade was a huge jump.”

This year, Mitchell’s second-graders are taking a new state standardized test aimed at keeping their students on track in reading and math. It’s shorter than the TNReady assessments that older students are taking but, like TNReady, it’s supposed to better gauge academic skills.  

State officials hope the new second-grade assessment, which is optional for districts, will provide valuable data to both second- and third-grade teachers. That data, they say, should help Tennessee reach its goal of getting 75 percent of third-graders reading on grade level by 2025.

A lot of emphasis is put on third-grade tests. It’s the first year the state has test score data for all students, and research shows that if students are behind in third grade, it’s challenging to catch up.

Before this year, districts could administer the SAT-10, a Pearson-designed test that was not aligned to Tennessee’s standards. That bothered teachers, because SAT-10 tested things, like coordinated grids, that Tennessee teachers were not supposed to teach in the second grade, according to their standards.

“This is crazy,” Cindy Cliche remembers thinking about the SAT-10 tests when she taught second grade for Rutherford County Schools.

“That’s why I was so excited that the state was actually developing a test based on second-grade standards,” said Cliche, now a math coordinator for Murfreesboro City Schools. “ … I want a test that will truly give us information about our students.’”

In addition to being aligned with the state’s standards, Tennessee’s new Questar-administered test has similar questions to TNReady assessments for third- and fourth-graders. Those emphasize the types of literacy skills that the State Department of Education is pushing under its “Ready to be Ready” initiative. Just as with the SAT-10, the new test scores will be used to measure improvement in third grade that will be part of third-grade teacher evaluations.

Tennessee isn’t alone in finding early testing useful. Federal law doesn’t require annual testing until the third grade, but 35 states have some sort of test for younger students. Fifteen, including Tennessee, have a single statewide assessment for younger students, while other states allow districts to choose from a menu.

But unlike 29 other states, Tennessee doesn’t require districts to administer a test before third grade; districts decide whether to opt-in.

Still, nearly 100 districts — far more than half of Tennessee’s 146 — are using this year’s test, around double the districts that used the SAT-10 last school year.

Despite its national popularity, testing in early grades has a lot of critics. Younger students don’t have the same skillset as older ones when it comes to standardized testing, the critics say. In addition to the challenge of understanding the purpose of testing, younger students often can’t sit still as long and have a harder time holding pencils and bubbling in answers.

Mitchell says her students struggle with testing — but they do it all year, since Shelby County Schools, like many districts, also require MAP tests, which stand for Measurements of Academic Progress.

“You can only read a question one time. What happens if a child was asleep and didn’t catch it?” she said. “I had a little boy and he was out cold. He was like two to three questions behind. I’m thinking, ‘Oh well, what do you do?’”

The good news for sleepy students is that the state’s test is relatively short. And at Mitchell’s school, it will be administered in the morning, when students are more alert. Each part of the test is 40 minutes, and students take it spread across four days. Students can write their answers in the test booklet, rather than transferring them to a bubble sheet, like older students.

“They’ll probably think TNReady is a breeze coming off of the MAP testing,” Mitchell said.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen says that the test is designed not to be boring.

“They’re interesting questions, questions that require thinking, which makes it much more engaging for students,” she said.