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.

 

appropriate instruction

Special education in tumult as Adams 14 faces resignations, parent complaints

Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District, speaks to parents at a forum April 17, 2018. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Just weeks from the end of the school year, Ed Collins found out that his 7-year-old son was not getting all the instruction he was supposed to get to address his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Collins said the school in Adams 14 owed his son 18 days of instruction. Much of the time lost was due to suspensions that were contrary to his child’s special education plan, he said.

Likewise, Samantha Ochoa recently found out that her son, a freshman at Adams City High School, is failing all of his classes. Under a plan to address his learning disability, Ochoa said, the school owes him 650 hours of instruction.

The two parents’ stories are among many in the Adams 14 school district in Commerce City, which has had a tumultuous year with special education. A mass midyear exodus of top administrators and teachers has led to confusion at schools, a rotating crew of substitutes, gaps in services, and students not getting the education and support they need.

According to federal law, students who are identified with special needs must receive appropriate help so they can learn. Legally, schools must follow those students’ individualized education plans, although complaints don’t often go to court.

Javier Abrego, the superintendent of Adams 14, a district under a state plan for turnaround, and school principals refused to discuss the issues parents raise. To protect student privacy, school officials generally do not comment on the cases of individual students. But in a prepared statement, Abrego wrote that the district is “not aware of any IEP non-compliance concerns” – even though people have raised issues at school board meetings and during a community meeting earlier this month.

The silence of the district administration is a change for a district whose previous special education staff was dubbed “the dream team.”

“They were able to take a situation, whether it was brought to them by the parent or someone else and say, ‘let’s figure this out,’” said Paula Christina, a child and family advocate for ARC of Adams County, a nonprofit that helps families of special needs children. “You don’t always have that collaboration and skill set with all the districts.”

“It really saddens me to see how things have fallen apart,” Christina said. “Something is not working at the top level at the administration.”

Instead of responding to parents’ charges, district officials have highlighted efforts to teach students at some schools social and emotional skills. But one principal said that while the work is beneficial, it doesn’t help students with severe needs.

The staffing problems in the district have, as of April, included administrators. The district’s director of student services – who oversees special education – resigned, leaving for an assistant director job in Denver. On the next tier, three special education coordinators who help schools create and troubleshoot plans for students with special needs also resigned and will leave at the end of the school year.

Many special education teachers also have left, although officials would not provide numbers. Anecdotally, other administrators, teachers, and union officials say it has been a bad year.

According to a roster of special education teachers still working in late April, two elementary schools had just one teacher left, although the schools also have paraprofessionals.

Hanson Elementary School, where the district’s records show there are 50 students on special needs plans, has one teacher certified to teach special education. Rose Hill Elementary, which has 60 students with special needs plans — including some in a program for students with severe needs from across the district — also had just one teacher as of April, down from three at the start of the year.

That has led to a succession of substitutes filling in.

At Rose Hill, Collins said that his 7-year-old’s classroom teacher has helped his son a lot, but his assigned special education staffer is always changing, something that is particularly rough for his son.

“They’ve been using substitutes,” Collins said. “He doesn’t like change. I’m a single parent. His mom’s gone and his older sisters are with their mom. So he thinks that everybody that cares about him leaves him.”

Families say change is difficult for many children with special needs.

Because special education teachers are considered a hard-to-staff position across the country, many teachers and parents worry about filling so many positions by next school year.

Superintendent Abrego’s prepared statement notes the district is “exploring all options, including incentives to attract special education professionals to the district.” A spokesman also said the district will reconsider appropriate staffing levels once a new director of student services has been hired.

One change that has already been planned is to move the special needs program from Rose Hill to Central Elementary school next year in an effort to get more space and to pool resources of both schools special needs programs.

Apart from staffing, parents and teachers claim there are also problems in the district’s process for identifying students who have special needs, and then gaps in serving them.

Ochoa’s son at Adams City High School, for example, went through most of the school year with teachers unaware that he had a plan for his special needs and needed accommodations, she said.

“They kept assuring me everything was good,” Ochoa said. “That they were modifying his work. But they weren’t.”

The district recently offered Ochoa’s son a one-on-one tutor to help make up the instructional time, but it will likely go into the summer. Ochoa said her son is weary of the plan.

“He tells me, ‘Mom, I feel stupid, I just want to drop out,’” Ochoa said.

Other parents and teachers point to gaps in services for students with severe emotional or social needs.

Because of budget limitations, district officials say that they can only afford to have a districtwide program at one school for students with severe social or emotional needs. This year, that program is serving middle school students.

Kim Cini, the district’s assistant director of student services, said there aren’t many students identified with severe emotional or social needs in elementary or high school, but for those that are, the special education teams at schools can determine how to serve that student in a regular classroom, or if absolutely necessary, students can be sent to get services out of the district.

Currently there are 25 Adams 14 students that the district is paying to receive services elsewhere. That’s down from 38 out-of-district placements last year.

But integrating those students into regular classrooms can be challenging. Barb McDowell, president of the teachers union in Adams 14, said that in those cases teachers need help from qualified special education staff. Without it, McDowell said teachers are also seeing more behavior issues among all students.

With the district’s turmoil, parents complain that their children’s needs are being overlooked. Shelly Hebel said her 14-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression, and a learning disability, could have used more mental health help specific to her social and emotional needs this year.

Instead, Hebel found out recently that Adams City High School wasn’t following her daughter’s special education plan. Among the requirements of the plan, Hebel said, teachers needed to allow the girl to leave classes early so she could walk across the campus before hallways are crowded. The girl’s emotional problems got so bad, she stopped going to classes.

Hebel said her oldest daughter had similar issues years ago and ended up dropping out of school, so she says this time she’s not taking chances. She is pulling her daughter out of school and will send her to the district’s alternative high school next year.

Meanwhile the district’s assistant director of student services, Cini, is trying to keep other projects moving forward, which she said could help improve services in the district.

“I know that intervention and prevention is our ticket out of constant crisis,” Cini said.

Union president McDowell said some teachers blame this year’s problems in part on cuts made in the current school year to the number of mental health professionals such as counselors and psychologists at schools.

“There was a lot of pushback on that, so next year every school will have a full-time mental health worker,” Cini said. “Everybody’s going to have that.”

In Adams 14, district officials say the responsibility of making sure a student’s plan is being followed belongs to each principal.

Annie Fahnestock, a special education teacher who resigned in January from Rose Hill, said the schools need more oversight.

“It was all left up to the coordinators and the director of special education,” Fahnestock said.

Christina said that she has seen changes that concern her, including instances where principals haven’t been as receptive to suggestions or the district’s ideas about inclusion of students in general education classrooms.

In November, for example, parents complained that the new school administration at Rose Hill was discriminating against students in the districtwide program for severe needs and making them feel unwelcome.

Her nonprofit group provided a training at the school, including for the principal and other staff, on how to talk about disability and how to be sensitive to students’ needs.

Teacher Fahnestock said the district’s special education coordinators and director came to her school often to share their concerns about special education programming with her principal.

“But in the end, it was more like it’s her building,” Fahnestock said. “So she gets final say.”

beyond high school

Report: Memphis students from poor families less likely to have access to advanced coursework

PHOTO: By Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

While most high school students in Tennessee’s largest district have access to advanced courses to prepare them for college, most of those classes are concentrated in schools with more affluent families.

Of the 14 high schools in Shelby County Schools that offer more than 40 advanced classes, all but one have a lower percentage of students from poor families than the district.

Those schools educate slightly more than half of high school students in the Memphis district. In contrast, about a quarter of high school students are in schools with 20 or fewer advanced courses, according to a new district report.

District officials say those course offerings in the 2017-18 school year are closely correlated with the size of the school: The larger the student population, the more likely the school is to offer advanced courses. The concentration of schools with more affluent students was not examined in the report.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools

The findings are scheduled to be presented at next week’s school board meeting as part of the district’s monthly check-in on various statistics on teaching and student learning.

Taking advanced classes in high school introduces students to college-level coursework and in many cases allows them to skip some college classes — saving students thousands of dollars. And because students from low-income families, who make up about 59 percent of Shelby County Schools, lag behind their more affluent peers in college enrollment, they are encouraged to take more advanced courses.

Advanced courses include programs such as such as Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, and honors courses.

Jessica Lotz, the district’s director of performance management who will present the report, said this year’s numbers are better than last year. Since her last report on the topic, three schools now offer advanced courses for the first time.

Staffing is the biggest barrier to offering more advanced courses, she said. So, additional teacher trainings are planned for the summer.

And district plans are underway to increase the number of students taking those courses. The district is also pursuing federal funds to help students from low-income families pay for dual enrollment courses, and also encouraging area colleges to lower the number of students needed to take a class so that smaller schools can participate.

The number of students taking advanced courses is part of the state Department of Education measure of a being ready for college, or a “ready graduate,” under its new accountability plan.

Scroll down to the bottom of this story for a full chart on the number of advanced courses by high school.

Here are the 14 schools with 40 or more advanced courses each:

  • White Station High (143 advanced courses)
  • Central High (116)
  • Middle College High (98)
  • Germantown High (95)
  • Cordova High (79)
  • Overton High (75)
  • Ridgeway High (74)
  • Bolton High (56)
  • Southwind High (55)
  • Whitehaven High (52)
  • Hollis F. Price Middle College High (46)
  • Kingsbury High (45)
  • Memphis Virtual School (43)
  • East High (42)

Note: The number of courses offered refers to unique advanced courses that are available at a given school, not the total number of times/sections the same course is offered for different groups of students.

Four high schools did not offer any advanced courses: Legacy Leadership Academy, a charter school; The Excel Center, an adult learning school; Newcomer International Center, a new high school program for immigrant students; and Northwest Prep Academy, an alternative school.

Of the advanced courses, International Baccalaureate, a high-profile certification program for high school students worldwide, was the least common. Just three more affluent high schools — Ridgeway, Germantown, and Bolton — offered those courses, according to the district’s data.

Dual enrollment, another category of advanced courses, are taught in partnership with an area college and count toward a postsecondary degree. Though the share of Shelby County Schools students taking dual enrollment courses has increased from about 5 to 9 percent since 2014, the percentage slightly decreased this year compared to last school year.

Most of the high schools, offer a total of 183 dual enrollment courses. But only four of the 16 charter schools in the report offered those classes.

About half of high schools in the district offer a total of 194 Advanced Placement courses, which culminate in a test at the end of the year that can count toward college credit if students score well enough. Most of those classes are concentrated in seven more affluent schools.

Those schools are:

  • White Station High (39 AP courses)
  • Central High (20)
  • Cordova High (15)
  • Kingsbury High (13)
  • Overton High (13)
  • Whitehaven High (11)
  • Southwind High (10)

Honors courses, which count toward an advanced high school diploma but do not count for college credit, were the most common with just over 1,000 across the district. Only seven schools, which were either charter schools or alternative schools, did not offer any honors courses.

One of Shelby County Schools’ goals is to increase the percentage of students prepared for college by 2025. Currently, about 90 percent of students who graduate from the district would be required to take remedial classes in college because of low ACT scores, according to state data. That’s usually a sign that their high school did not adequately prepare them for college classes.

A state report released last fall examining where students go after high school showed that 56 percent of Shelby County Schools’ graduating class of 2016 went on to enroll in a four-year college or university, community college, or technical college. That’s compared to 63 percent of students statewide.

One of the report’s recommendations to boost that number was to improve partnerships with universities and increase the number of advanced course offerings — a recommendation Lotz emphasized Tuesday.

Shelby County Schools partners with the following universities and colleges for dual enrollment courses: Bethel University, Christian Brothers University, LeMoyne Owen College, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, University of Memphis, and William Moore College of Technology (Moore Tech)

Below you can find the advanced course offerings at each district-run and charter school in Shelby County Schools. Below that you can view the district’s full report.