Are Children Learning

Try out new 2015 ISTEP practice questions

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

(UPDATE: New practice questions for the 2016 ISTEP test are now available. Go here to try them. These questions are also still good practice for the 2016 test as well. So when you’re done with these try out the new questions!)

Children across Indiana will take a new, and very different, ISTEP in less than six months but teachers have only recently gotten to look at sample questions to guide them in preparing their students.

The upcoming spring ISTEP tests have been a major concerns for Indiana educators as the state rolls out its new Hoosier-specific academic standards this year.

That’s because until recently, no one had any idea how the test would be different.

The new tests, which are still being written and refined, reflect Indiana’s new standards, which in essence are a list of expectations for what students should know at every grade level. The new expectations are considered tougher than the state’s prior standards. For example, students to delve more deeply into subjects and justify answers with evidence rather than just citing their personal experience or background knowledge.

In the simplest sense, the standards and the tests based on them want students to show what they were thinking, not just that they happened to get the right answer. The tests are designed to capture student thinking by requiring them to show their work in a variety of new ways that go beyond multiple-choice options.

(MORE: See what new “technology-enhanced” ISTEP questions will expect students to be able to do.)

To help teachers and administrators better adjust to the new standards, the Department of Education is holding 10 training sessions across the state for teachers, administrators and community members. The sessions let teachers ask questions, work through lesson-planning exercises and discuss strategies for incorporating the new standards in their teaching.

Teachers also got to see sample ISTEP questions for math and English at Tuesday’s session at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The sample questions were written with help from teachers and were considered, but not chosen, for the actual ISTEP test.

The last training session will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Sheet Metal Workers union hall at 2828 E. 45th St, in Indianapolis.

Listed below are sample ISTEP questions for K-8 students. Some are short-answer, and some are long-answer. To check your answers, scroll to the bottom of the story. View other ISTEP sample questions from third-grade, sixth-grade and eighth-grade English, as well as third-grade, sixth-grade and eighth-grade writing questions.

(Let us know what you think in the comments: Are the questions too difficult? Too easy? Just right? If you’re feeling brave, you can even tell us how you scored.)

1. Third-grade math

Given information: (A clock is pictured that shows the time 3:30 p.m.) The clock shows the time at which students arrive at a park one afternoon to play a game.

Part A: After the students arrive, they have 30 minutes to practice before the first game begins. What time does the first game begin?

Part B: It took 40 minutes to play the first game and 50 minutes to play the second game. How long, in minutes, did they spend in all playing the two games? Show all work.

Part C: The students want to play a third game, but the park closes at 5:45 p.m. On the lines below, explain whether or not the teams are LIKELY to have enough time to play a third game before the park closes. Include the time the second game ends in your answer.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: In this question, students have to show they can tell and write time to the nearest minute from analog clocks using a.m. and p.m., and measure time intervals in minutes. The problem also asks them to solve real-world problems with addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes.

2. Fourth-grade math

Given information: 1 kilogram = 1,000 grams

Part A: John’s pumpkin has a mass of 2 kilograms. The mass of Greg’s pumpkin is 500 grams less than John’s pumpkin. What is the mass, in grams, of Greg’s pumpkin? Show all work.

Part B: John thinks the mass of the two pumpkins, in grams, is greater than 3,000 grams. Use words, numbers, and/or symbols to explain if John is correct.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: This problem is designed to get students to show that they can add, subtract, multiply or divide to solve real-world problems that include distance, time, volume, mass or money. Such problems might also ask students to use simple fractions and problems that ask them to translate measurement from a larger unit to a smaller unit.

3. Sixth-grade math

Given information: Lynn is baking 20 cakes. She needs blueberries, strawberries, and some other ingredients for her recipe. She needs 22 pounds of blueberries. She needs twice as many pounds of blueberries as she does strawberries.

Part A: Write an equation that can be used to determine the number of pounds of strawberries Lynn needs. Be sure to define the variable in your equation.

Part B: Lynn buys the blueberries for $3 per pound and the strawberries for $2 per pound. What is the total cost of the blueberries and strawberries? Show all work.

Part C: In addition to the cost of the berries, Lynn spends $52 on the other ingredients needed to make the 20 cakes. Lynn wants to make $5 for each cake she sells, taking into account the amount she spends on ALL ingredients. For how much should Lynn sell each cake in order to make $5 per cake? Use words, numbers, and/or symbols to justify your answer.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: Students must show they can solve simple equations using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division for non-negative numbers that don’t have repeating decimals. They have to represent real-world problems with equations and solve them.

4. Seventh-grade math

Given information: A student claims that 8x – 2(4 + 3x) is equivalent to 3x. The student’s steps are shown.

  • Expression: 8x – 2(4 + 3x)
  • Step 1: 8x – 8 + 3x
  • Step 2: 8x + 3x – 8
  • Step 3: 11x – 8
  • Step 4: 3x

Part A: Describe ALL errors in the student’s work.

Part B: If the errors in the student’s work are corrected, what will be the final expression? Show all work.

Scroll to the bottom for the answer

The standard: Students must show they can apply properties of operations to create equivalent linear expressions, including situations that require factoring. They must also show they can justify each step in that process.


 

Answers (in the order the questions were listed)

1. Third-grade math

Answer Part A: Students must answer 4:00

Answer Part B: Students must show that 40 + 50 = 90 and include an answer of 90 minutes.

Answer Part C: Students must say the second game ended at 5:30 p.m. They must also explain that the team will likely not have enough time to play a third game because the park closes in 15 minutes, and each of the other two games took at least 40 minutes.

2. Fourth-grade math

Answer Part A: Students must show 2,000 – 500 = 1,500 or another valid way to get arrive at the same answer, plus the correct answer of 1,500 grams.

Answer Part B: Students must explain either of the following.

  • Yes, the mass of the two pumpkins is 3,500 grams, which is greater than 3,000 grams.
  • 2,000 grams + 1,500 grams = 3,500 grams. 3,500 > 3,000
  • Another valid response

3. Sixth-grade math

Answer Part A: Showing that p represents the number of pounds of strawberries Lynn needs and that 2p = 22 or another representation of the equation and the variable.

Answer Part B: Showing that 2p = 22, p = 22/2 and p = 11. Then showing that 22 x $3 = $66, 11 x $2 = $22, and $66 + $22 = $88. They must also list the right answer as $88.

Answer Part C: Showing that $88 + $52 = $140, $140/20 = $7 per cake, $7 + $5 = $12 or another valid process. They must also include that Lynn should sell each cake for $12.

4. Seventh-grade math

Answer Part A: Students must explain that in step 1, the student did not apply the distributive property correctly. The student forgot to multiple -2 and 3x. In step 4, the student should not have subtracted 8 from 11x because they are not like terms. Another valid description of the errors is acceptable, too.

Answer Part B: The process must show 8x – 2(4 + 3x), 8x – 8 – 6x, 2x – 8. The final expression 2x – 8 must also be listed.

 

outside the box

How one Chicago principal is leaning on data to help black boys

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel

Test scores were rising at Fuller Elementary School when Marilyn McCottrell took over in 2016. Yet troubling trends loomed behind the numbers.

“A lot of growth has been made,” said McCottrell, Fuller’s third principal in six years. “But that growth is not equal among students.”

She’s talking about black boys.

Black girls had driven most of Fuller’s academic improvement since the 2012-13 school year, when Chicago Public Schools handed management of the Bronzeville school over to the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, which replaced the staff and principal in a turnaround effort. Black boys had improved much slower. They got most of the school’s Ds and Fs, and were much less likely than girls to meet or approach expectations for college readiness on state tests.

PARCC Scores

Last school year, McCottrell and her staff crunched the data and made changes at Fuller to shorten the gaps between boys and girls. The stakes are high. Black boys, especially those from low-income households, are more prone than their sisters to falling behind in school and running into the juvenile criminal justice system. As adults, they are more likely to be arrested, imprisoned, or chronically unemployed. McCottrell believes what Fuller did, starting with painstakingly crunching data at the school, classroom and individual levels, could help other schools do better for black boys.

But she wants to be clear about something: Black boys don’t need to be “saved.”

“They need to be respected and appreciated for the differences and the unique gifts that they bring to the educational experience,” she said.

Black boys
PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Fuller Elementary School students (from left)Tyrese Robinson-Guy, Terrell Johnson, and Jasean Waters at a community garden in Bronzeville.

 

Fuller, a Level 1 school in good standing, occupies the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and 42nd Street in Bronzeville. Nearly all of its 370 students are black and come from economically disadvantaged households. About half of the teachers are white, and about half are African-American. When CPS turned over management of Fuller, it was seeking to lift up a school that had been on academic probation five consecutive years. Fuller still has far to go. In 2017, only 10 percent of Fuller students were ready for the next level compared to 26 percent across the school district and 34 percent across the state. Growth has been above average, but, as McCottrell said, that growth hasn’t been equal.

PARCC Scores

Last August, McCottrell arrived at Fuller for a training session for teachers bearing handouts packed with data on black boys’ grades and test scores. Middle school reading teacher Arlicia McClain was shocked to see the stark disparities.

“It made me buck up and say I need to talk to these students,” she said. “I need to know what is going on that is preventing them from improving. Is it me? Is it something going on with them individually? Is it something they are missing?”

Girls’ math scores had increased by 193 percent compared with 90 percent for boys since the turnaround effort began in the 2012-13 school year. The gender performance gap was even more striking in reading, where black girls’ scores jumped 140 percent compared with 31 percent for boys. 

As McClain and other teachers reflected on the numbers, they recounted their  own experiences in the classroom. For example, they could all name which students were removed from class the most for disciplinary reasons, and nearly all were black boys.

Arlicia McClain
PHOTO: Courtesy of Arlicia McClain
Fuller Elementary School teacher Arlicia McClain.

McClain realized she tended to call on black girls more in class.

McClain, African-American herself, wondered if she was favoring girls or failing to challenge boys enough, and how that could affect their learning. She resolved to push black boys more during her second year at Fuller. 

She also left the session with another big take-away: A lot of boys who wouldn’t participate in classroom-wide sessions engaged more in small groups. Wedding the data to her realizations has helped the young teacher come up with tailored approaches for struggling students.

“Look at them as individuals who want to learn, but who sometimes need the individualized attention to do that,” McClain said. “If you really are about the progression of black youth, you’re going to need to be individual-focused, and you’re going to need the data to do it.”

In the 2016-17 school year, for the subjects of English language arts and math, about 70 percent of all Ds and Fs at Fuller went to black boys.

In the first quarter of last school year, McCottrell and her staff revised Fuller’s grading policies in hopes of addressing the disparity.

They switched to what McCottrell called “a more equitable grading scale,” where the lowest a student could score is a 50, adopted a “no-opt out policy” for homework, so children who failed to turn in their homework by deadline wouldn’t automatically get a zero and had to make up assignments, and allowed students to redo certain parts of failed tests and quizzes after reteaching.

By the end of the first quarter, the numbers of Ds and Fs had decreased by nearly half.

But black boys were still getting about the same percent of them as before.

So McCottrell decided to go in for a closer look.

“The numbers only tell part of the story,” she said.

McCottrell ate with boys in the lunchroom. She played flag football with them at recess. She sat with them in class, assisted their teachers, and taught her own lessons across grades and subjects.

She talked to the boys — and listened.

Jasean Waters, a black boy

Jasean Waters, 13, said he found it hard to focus on his school work.

Some distractions come from inside the classroom, like the bullies Jasean’s run into. Other distractions live in the world outside Fuller, like the gun violence whose victims are overwhelmingly black males.

“It’s a big struggle for us,” he said. “There’s a lot of people dying around here, so we gotta watch our backs, and when we’re walking home we feel like we’re unsafe, so we just focus on us being safe. It’s hard to focus on school.”

Boredom is another issue. Jasean said that he does well in math, but struggles sometimes with reading, and that his interest wanes with the lack of characters and authors he can relate to in school texts. That sounded familiar to McCottrell.  When she spoke with boys, she heard that school amounted to a seven-hour suppression of their personalities, interests, and voices — especially in reading and English classes, where black voices and black writers were missing.

“When kids have to pick a book for independent reading, they don’t relate to the characters in those classroom libraries,” she said. “It’s really hard coming to a class everyday when nothing relates to you.”

Parcc Scores

McCottrell decided to teach an optional African-American literature class every Friday during a weekly “intervention time” for students needing help in reading and math  About 17 boys showed up on the first day and read excerpts from Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” whose protagonist proclaims, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

McCottrell said many of the boys could expertly analyze the Harlem Renaissance classic, because they related to the idea of not being heard, seen, or understood for who they really are. The students offered examples like the portrayal of black men in the media.

“Many of them were saying things like, ‘I’m not a gangbanger, but this is what people think I am, because I’m dark or because I’m tall,’” she said. “They talked about it in the context of their teachers not knowing who they are.”

The class soon doubled as word of mouth drew others in. Jasean, a C student at the start of the class, joined them. He said he learned things he hadn’t been introduced to before. He read about segregation, speeches by Martin Luther King, and books like “Bud, Not Buddy,” about a 10-year-old black orphan during the Great Depression.

He said he rededicated himself to doing 100 minutes of reading a night and by the end of last school year earned an A in reading. He said he raises his hand to ask and answer questions in class more.

“It feels good,” he said.

Jasean’s grandmother, local school council member Regina Waters, praised McCottrell’s hands-on approach with students and her efforts to build one-on-one relationships with the boys.

“She’s upfront with the kids, and she knows all the kids by name which is unusual in the short time she’s been there,” Waters said.

McCottrell
PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Marilyn McCottrell

Fuller’s boys closed the gap with girls in several ways over last school year.

They went from getting 70 percent of the Ds and Fs in English and math to 60 percent. In 2016-17, 46 percent of boys compared with 55 percent of girls were on track, meaning they earned a C or higher in reading and math and had an attendance rate of at least 95 percent. In 2017-18, the percentage of boys on track increased by 23 percentage points compared to 19 points for girls. But sitting in her office at Fuller one day earlier this summer, McCottrell admitted something about her efforts for black boys.

“Nothing is solved,” she said.

Despite some progress last school year, when the 2018-19 school year starts, black boys at Fuller will still lag behind black girls. Forces outside of education like poverty, mass incarceration, and racial discrimination will continue to disadvantage black youth in ways that manifest in classrooms, where they land heaviest on black boys.

The odds aren’t yet even for black boys at McCottrell’s school, or at most schools across America. However, McCottrell believes that educators learned a lot that they can build on down the line.

Next year, McCottrell said she’s urging teachers to incorporate more of the black experience and black voices into lesson plans and to increase small-group instruction.

Teachers are having more data conferences with McCottrell and with each other to guide instruction and target specific students’ needs. McCottrell is also promoting more social-emotional learning techniques and restorative practices rather than punitive approaches to discipline, and incorporating cultural awareness and bias training into teachers’ professional development.

Marlene Aponte, the Academy for Urban School Leadership’s director of coaching,  said that in some ways Fuller’s story resembles other schools’ in the years after turnarounds. After focusing on rigorous instruction and ambitious growth targets,“we’re starting to really hone in on some of the pieces that we may have overlooked, such as gender bias, gender equity, access in equity,” she said.

McCottrell wants her boys to have the tools to succeed. She knows there are some issues that her school won’t be able to solve.

But it’s a start.

testing accountability

Pressuring schools to raise test scores got diminishing returns, new study of No Child Left Behind finds

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

Does tightening the screws on schools and teachers lead to benefits for students?

For the past couple of decades, school reform efforts have assumed that the answer is yes. Setting ambitious goals, and putting pressure on schools to reach them, would push students ahead. And past research has shown that math scores rose as more states began threatening and sanctioning schools with low test scores in the 2000s.

But a new study shows that continuing to “raise the bar” during the No Child Left Behind era only had a modest effect at best. That raises questions about whether the small gains were worth the political controversy, and what critics claim were the educational costs, of putting a greater focus on test scores.

“These results suggest that the ratcheting [up] of test-based accountability pressures alone is not enough to sustain improvements in student achievement,” conclude researchers Vivian Wong, Coady Wing, David Martin, and Anandita Krishnamachari.

Their paper, which has not been formally peer-reviewed, focuses on the several years after the federal No Child Left Behind law was signed in 2002. The law — which passed with bipartisan support but would eventually draw bipartisan ire — required states to test students annually and set goals for schools. Schools that didn’t meet them faced sanctions.

States each set their own targets using different tests. But the researchers attempted to ask the same questions of each state: How hard was it for each school to hit its goals, and how did that change between 2003 and 2011? Then, they looked at how students did on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Did states see larger gains on the federal low-stakes test after making life tougher on schools?

In many states, it really did become harder and harder for schools to measure up. In 2008, Education Week noted that California’s school failure rate jumped from 34 to 48 percent between 2007 and 2008. In Vermont, the climb was even steeper: from 12 percent of schools failing to 37 percent.

This added pressure, the authors conclude, seemed to lead to national gains in eighth grade math and reading. But the effect was tiny: about half a point in both subjects. (For comparison’s sake, the difference in performance between white and black students in eighth grade math was 32 points on the latest test.)

“Though they find positive effects, like everyone in this literature, they are small [effects],” Tom Dee, a Stanford education professor.

That said, the gains were largest for certain disadvantaged groups: English language learners, Hispanic students, students with disabilities, and students who started at the lowest levels of performance.

There was no evidence of higher standards causing any improvements in fourth grade math or reading.

If this shows that raising the bar doesn’t do much, though, past research has shown that just having a bar can make a big difference.

In states that didn’t have accountability systems at all before No Child Left Behind, creating them led to big gains on national low-stakes math tests: 8 points in fourth grade and 5 points in eighth grade, according to a study from Dee.

Together, this research bolsters a theory known as the “accountability plateau” — that creating tougher rules boost performance, but ratcheting up the pressure leads to diminishing returns.

“It seems like when you implement an accountability system there’s an initial bump, but after that continued gains are hard to come by,” said Morgan Polikoff, a professor at the University of Southern California who has studied standards and accountability systems.

Dee was more skeptical of this idea. Schools’ goals were getting harder and harder to reach just as criticism of the law was cresting and politicians were considering changes.  

“Districts may have understood it was a nudge and a wink and it didn’t really have teeth,” he said of the law.

No Child Left Behind’s replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, takes a different tack. Instead of giving each state discretion in how many schools are identified as failing and requiring them to ramp up the consequences over time, the law requires each state to identify 5 percent of schools as low-performing.

The latest study suggests that might be a preferable approach if states are able to figure out better ways to help a small group of struggling schools improve. Turnaround efforts — including a prominent federal program backed by a lot of money — have often produced disappointing results.

“It remains unclear how states will implement ESSA,” write the researchers. “But the federal law will likely not succeed if performance requirements are not accompanied by additional support for educators.”