Are Children Learning

Indiana sees a small gain in ISTEP scores

PHOTO: Jason Seliskar via Flicker

Hoosier kids in grades 3 to 8 collectively made the smallest gain on ISTEP in five years in 2013-14, gaining just one percentage point over the prior year.

Statewide, 74.7 percent of test-takers passed both the English and math portions of ISTEP, according to data released today by the Indiana Department of Education. Find your school’s scores here.

In a statement, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz focused on the good news of another gain. Indiana students haven’t lost ground on ISTEP since 2009.

“This year, we saw yet another increase in student performance indicated through ISTEP,” she said. “These increased scores are just one sign of the great learning that is happening in Indiana Schools.”

The annual release of scores for nearly 500,000 students in the past was released in June but last year was delayed to September after problems with online exams required a review of the results. This year, there were no major problems with ISTEP online. Ritz said in a radio interview last month that a decision by Fort Wayne schools to administer the exam entirely on paper this year slowed scoring and delayed the release of results.

ISTEP is the backbone of Indiana’s school accountability system, playing central roles in A to F grades assigned to schools, expected to be out later this fall, and evaluation scores for teachers. Scores have not yet been released for high school end-of-course exams in Algebra and English.

Statewide, preliminary reading scores made a solid 1.2 percentage point gain over last year to reach 80.7 percent passing. In math, students gained a half point to 83.5 percent passing.

Carmel (93 percent), Zionsville (92.8 percent) and West Lafayette (92.1 percent) were the top three districts for percent of students passing ISTEP for the second straight year. Brownsburg (sixth best with 90.5 percent passing) was also in the top 10. All of those districts are among the state’s wealthiest communities.

On the other end of the spectrum was Indianapolis Public Schools, serving one of the poorest communities in Indiana, again ranked fourth from the bottom out of 290 school districts, tied with Medora at 51.6 percent passing. While last year the district could point to IPS as having one of the strongest gains in passing rate in the state, the news was not as good this year — a modest 0.5 percent gain.

All but 10 of the 58 IPS schools that took the test were ranked in the state’s bottom 25 percent for passing rate. Eight IPS schools were in the bottom 50 out of more than 1,800 schools that took ISTEP statewide.

But the news was not all bad for the district. Sidener Gifted Academy, an IPS magnet school for students that are identified as gifted, again was the top-rated school in the state, this time with 100 percent of its students passing ISTEP. This year two other schools joined Sidener at the top — Flaget Elementary School in Vincennes and St. Wendel School in Posey County.

Elsewhere in Marion County, Franklin Township again has the highest passing rate with 82.8 percent passing, up about one point from last year.

Wayne Township had by far the biggest ISTEP gain in the county: up 5.8 points to 64.4 percent passing. Two Wayne Township schools were ranked among the top 30 in the state for the biggest gains over last year: McClelland Elementary School (up 19 points) and North Wayne Elementary School (up 15 points).

Meanwhile, Warren Township (down 1.1 points) and Lawrence Township (down 0.4 points), were the only Marion County districts that saw their passing rates drop.

Much awaited results for four schools taken over by the state in 2012 and handed off to be run independently by charter school organizations showed some solid gains, but all four remained among the lowest-scoring schools in the state.

Seventh and eighth graders at Arlington High School, formerly of IPS, had an 11-point gain to 35.5 percent passing. Howe High School, also from IPS, gained eight points to 37.7 percent passing for its middle school students. That was the best of the group but still ranked in the bottom 1 percent of all Indiana schools.

Also in state takeover from IPS is Donnan Middle School, where scores were mostly flat at 24.9 percent passing, up 0.5 percent. Roosevelt High School, a Gary school in state takeover, gained 4.6 points to 20.3 percent passing.

Roosevelt is run by Tennessee-based Edison Learning and Arlington by Tindley Accelerated Schools of Indianapolis. Howe and Donnan are managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA. Manual High School, formerly of IPS and also run by CSUSA, only serves grades 9 to 12, so its students don’t take ISTEP. Arlington, Howe and Roosevelt serve grades 7 to 12.

This is the second year of test results for the takeover schools. Gains exceeded last year’s, which were considerably smaller at all four schools.

Arlington appears headed for an exit from state takeover after its operator, Tindley Accelerated Schools, told the Indiana State Board of Education it wanted to end its contract early because managing the school had become too costly. A committee that includes officials from IPS, Tindley, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and the state forged a deal to keep Arlington operating under Tindley this year and is working on a transition plan for next year.

Tindley’s move raised questions about whether state takeover was working. Today’s scores were mixed as evidence for the program’s effectivenss. While the gains at some schools could be seen bolstering the argument that takeovers can make a difference, the persistently low passing rates have been cited as demonstrating the idea is ineffective.



Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana’s plan to measure high schools with a college prep test is on hold for two years

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Thanks to last-minute legislative wrangling, it’s unclear what test Indiana high schoolers will take for the next two years to measure what they have learned in school.

Lawmakers were expected to approve a House bill proposing Indiana use a college entrance exam starting in 2019 as yearly testing for high schoolers, at the same time state works to replace its overall testing system, ISTEP. But the start date for using the SAT or ACT was pushed back from 2019 to 2021, meaning it’s unclear how high schoolers will be judged for the next two years.

This is the latest upheaval in testing as the state works to replace ISTEP in favor of the new ILEARN testing system, a response to years of technical glitches and scoring problems. While a company has already proposed drafting exams for measuring the performance of Indiana students, officials now need to come up with a solution for the high school situation. ILEARN exams for grades 3-8 are still set to begin in 2019.

“Our next steps are to work with (the state board) to help inform them as they decide the plan for the next several years,” said Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education. “We take concerns seriously and we will continue doing all we can to support schools to manage the transition well.”

The delay in switching from the 10th grade ISTEP to college entrance exams for measuring high school students was proposed Wednesday night as lawmakers wrapped up the 2018 legislative session. Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author, said the change came out of a desire to align the testing plan with recommendations on high school tests from a state committee charged with rewriting Indiana’s graduation requirements.

It’s just the latest road bump since the legislature voted last year to scrap ISTEP and replace it with ILEARN, a plan that originally included a computer-adaptive test for grades 3-8 and end-of-course exams for high-schoolers in English, algebra and biology. Indiana is required by the federal government to test students each year in English and math, and periodically, in science.

The Indiana Department of Education started carrying out the plan to move to ILEARN over the summer and eventually selected the American Institutes for Research to write the test, a company that helped create the Common-Core affiliated Smarter balanced test. AIR’s proposal said they were prepared to create tests for elementary, middle and high school students.

Then, the “graduation pathways” committee, which includes Behning and Sen. Dennis Kruse, the Senate Education Committee chairman, upended the plan by suggesting the state instead use the SAT or ACT to test high schoolers. The committee said the change would result in a yearly test that has more value to students and is something they can use if they plan to attend college. Under their proposal, the change would have come during the 2021-22 school year.

When lawmakers began the 2018 session, they proposed House Bill 1426, which had a 2019 start. This bill passed out of both chambers and the timeline was unchanged until Wednesday.

In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Board of Education must decide what test high schoolers will take in 2019 and 2020 and how the state as a whole will transition from an Indiana-specific 10th grade ISTEP exam to a college entrance exam.

It’s not clear what approach state education officials will take, but one option is to go forward with AIR’s plan to create high school end-of-course exams. The state will already need a U.S. Government exam, which lawmakers made an option for districts last year, and likely will need one for science because college entrance exams include little to no science content. It could make sense to move ahead with English and math as well, though it will ultimately be up to the state board.

Some educators and national education advocates have raised concerns about whether an exam like the SAT or ACT is appropriate for measuring schools, though 14 states already do.

Jeff Butts, superintendent of Wayne Township, told state board members last week that using the college entrance exams seemed to contradict the state’s focus on students who go straight into the workforce and don’t plan to attend college. And a report from Achieve, a national nonprofit that helps states work on academic standards and tests, cautioned states against using the exams for state accountability because they weren’t designed to measure how well students have mastered state standards.

“The danger in using admissions tests as accountability tests for high school is that many high school teachers will be driven to devote scarce course time to middle school topics, water down the high school content they are supposed to teach in mathematics, or too narrowly focus on a limited range of skills in (English),” the report stated.

House Bill 1426 would also combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement and eliminates the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test.

It next heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk to be signed into law.

Keep Out

What’s wrong with auditing all of Colorado’s education programs? Everything, lawmakers said.

Students at DSST: College View Middle School work on a reading assignment during an English Language Development class (Photo By Andy Cross / The Denver Post).

State Rep. Jon Becker pitched the idea as basic good governance. The state auditor’s office examines all sorts of state programs, but it never looks at education, the second largest expenditure in Colorado’s budget and a sector that touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. So let the auditor take a good, long look and report back to the legislature on which programs are working and which aren’t.

The State Board of Education hated this idea. So did Democrats. And Republicans. The House Education Committee voted 12-0 this week to reject Becker’s bill, which would have required a systematic review of all educational programs enacted by the legislature and in place for at least six years. Even an amendment that would have put the state board in the driver’s seat couldn’t save it.

As he made his case, Becker, a Republican from Fort Morgan in northeastern Colorado, was careful not to name any specific law he would like to see changed.

“I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, he’s coming after my ox,’” he told the House Education Committee this week. “I know how this works. And that’s not the intent of this bill. It’s to look at all programs.”

But members of the committee weren’t buying it.

State Rep. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, pressed school board members who testified in favor of the bill to name a law or program they were particularly excited to “shed some light on.” If there’s a law that’s a problem, he asked, wouldn’t it make more sense to drill down just on that law?

They tried to demur.

“I feel like you’re trying to get us to say, we really want you to go after 191 or we really want you to go after charter schools,” said Cathy Kipp, a school board member in the Poudre School District who also serves on the board of the Colorado Association of School Boards. “That’s not what this is about.”

Kipp said committee members seemed to be “scared that if their pet programs get looked at, they’ll be eliminated. Why be scared? Shouldn’t we want these programs to be looked at?”

But proponents’ own testimony seemed to suggest some potential targets, including Senate Bill 191, Colorado’s landmark teacher effectiveness law.

As Carrie Warren-Gully, president of the school boards association, argued for the benefits of an independent evaluation of education programs, she offered up an example: The schedules of administrators who have to evaluate dozens of teachers under the law are more complicated than “a flight plan at DIA,” and districts have to hire additional administrators just to manage evaluations, cutting into the resources available for students, she said.

The debate reflected ongoing tensions between the state and school districts over Colorado’s complex system for evaluating schools and teachers and holding them accountable for student achievement. The systematic review bill was supported by the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, and the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance.

Lawmakers repeatedly told school officials that if they have problems with particular parts of existing legislation, they should come to them for help and will surely find allies.

Exasperated school officials responded by pointing to the past failure of legislation that would have tweaked aspects of evaluations or assessments — but the frustration was mutual.

“Just because people don’t agree with one specific approach doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to come to the table,” said committee chair Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat.

There were other concerns, including the possibility that this type of expansive evaluation would prove expensive and create yet another bureaucracy.

“When have we ever grown government to shrink it?” asked state Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. “There’s a paradox here.”

And state Rep. James Wilson, a Salida Republican who is also a former teacher and school superintendent, questioned whether the auditor’s office has the expertise to review education programs. He also asked what standard would be applied to evaluate programs that are implemented differently in more than 170 school districts across the state.

“If it’s effective more often than not, will they keep it?” Wilson asked. “If it doesn’t work in a third of them, it’s gone?”

State Board of Education members had similar questions when they decided earlier this year that this bill was a bad idea. Many of Colorado’s education laws don’t have clear measures of success against which their performance can be evaluated.

The READ Act, for example, stresses the importance of every child learning to read well in early elementary school and outlines the steps that schools have to take to measure reading ability and provide interventions to help students who are falling behind their peers.

But how many children need to improve their reading and by how much for the READ Act to be deemed effective or efficient? That’s not outlined in the legislation.

Proponents of the bill said outside evaluators could identify best practices and spread them to other districts, but state board members said they already monitor all of these programs on an ongoing basis and already produce thousands of pages of reports on each of these programs that go to the legislature every year. In short, they say they’re on the case.

“The state board, I can assure you, are very devoted and intent to make sure that we follow, monitor, and watch the progress of any programs that go through our department and make sure they’re enacted in the best way possible within the schools,” board member Jane Goff said.