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.

heads up

Tennessee will release TNReady test scores on Thursday. Here are five things to know.

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

When Tennessee unveils its latest standardized test scores on Thursday, the results won’t count for much.

Technical problems marred the return to statewide online testing this spring, prompting the passage of several emergency state laws that rendered this year’s TNReady scores mostly inconsequential. As a result, poor results can’t be used to hold students, educators, or schools accountable — for instance, firing a teacher or taking over a struggling school through the state’s Achievement School District.

But good or bad, the scores still can be useful, say teachers like Josh Rutherford, whose 11th-grade students were among those who experienced frequent online testing interruptions in April.

“There are things we can learn from the data,” said Rutherford, who teaches English at Houston County High School. “I think it would be unprofessional to simply dismiss this year’s scores.”

Heading into this week’s data dump, here are five things to know:

1. This will be the biggest single-day release of state scores since the TNReady era began three years ago.

Anyone with internet access will be able to view state- and district-level scores for math, English, and science for grades 3-12. And more scores will come later. School-by-school data will be released publicly in a few weeks. In addition, Tennessee will unveil the results of its new social studies test this fall after setting the thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level.

2. Still, this year’s results are anticlimactic.

There are two major reasons. First, many educators and parents question the scores’ reliability due to days of online testing headaches. They also worry that high school students stopped trying after legislators stepped in to say the scores don’t necessarily have to count in final grades. Second, because the scores won’t carry their intended weight, the stakes are lower this year. For instance, teachers have the option of nullifying their evaluation scores. And the state also won’t give each school an A-F grade this fall as originally planned. TNReady scores were supposed to be incorporated into both of those accountability measures.

3. The state is looking into the reliability of the online test scores.

In addition to an internal review by the Education Department, the state commissioned an independent analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization. Researchers for the Virginia-based technical group studied the impact of Tennessee’s online interruptions by looking into testing irregularity reports filed in schools and by scrutinizing variances from year to year and school to school, among other things.

4. The reliability of paper-and-pencil test scores are not in question.

Only about half of Tennessee’s 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested on computers. The other half — in grades 3-5 and many students in grades 6-8 — took the exams the old-fashioned way. Though there were some complaints related to paper testing too, state officials say they’re confident about those results. Even so, the Legislature made no distinction between the online and paper administrations of TNReady when they ordered that scores only count if they benefit students, teachers, and schools.

5. Ultimately, districts and school communities will decide how to use this year’s data.

Even within the same district, it wasn’t uncommon for one school to experience online problems and another to enjoy a much smoother testing experience. “Every district was impacted differently,” said Dale Lynch, executive director of the state superintendents organization. “It’s up to the local district to look at the data and make decisions based on those local experiences.”

District leaders have been reviewing the embargoed scores for several weeks, and they’ll share them with teachers in the days and weeks ahead. As for families, parents can ask to see their students’ individual score reports so they can learn from this year’s results, too. Districts distribute those reports in different ways, but they’re fair game beginning Thursday. You can learn more here.

Sharing Stories

Tell us your stories about children with special needs in Detroit

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Parents of students with special needs face difficult challenges when trying to get services for their children. Understanding their children’s rights, getting them evaluated and properly diagnosed, and creating an educational plan are among the many issues families face.

Chalkbeat Detroit wants to hear more about those issues to help inform our coverage. We are kicking off a series of conversations called a “listening tour” to discuss your concerns, and our first meeting will focus on children with special needs and disabilities. We’re partnering with the Detroit Parent Network as they look for solutions and better ways to support parents.

Our listening tour, combined with similar events in other communities Chalkbeat serves, will continue throughout this year on a variety of topics. In these meetings, we’ll look to readers, parents, educators, and students to help us know what questions we should ask, and we’ll publish stories from people who feel comfortable having their stories told. We hope you’ll share your stories and explore solutions to the challenges parents face.

Our special education listening tour discussion will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday July 24, at the Detroit Parent Network headquarters, 726 Lothrop St., Detroit.

As our series continues, we’ll meet at locations around the city to hear stories and experiences parents have while navigating the complexities of getting children the education and services they deserve.

Next week’s event includes a panel discussion with parents of children with special needs, responses from parent advocates, and an open discussion with audience members.

Those who are uncomfortable sharing stories publicly will have a chance to tell a personal story on an audio recorder in a private room, or will be interviewed by a Chalkbeat Detroit reporter privately.

The event is free and open to anyone who wants to attend, but reservations are required because space is limited. To register, complete this form, call 313-309-8100 or email frontdesk@detroitparentnetwork.org.

If you can’t make our event, but have a story to share, send an email to tips.detroit@chalkbeat.org, or call or send a text message to 313-404-0692.

Stayed tuned for more information about listening tour stops, topics and locations.