Testing

IPS sees test scores drop at top schools and first ‘innovation’ restart in 2016

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

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

It’s another bad year for Indianapolis Public Schools when it comes to state tests.

The state’s largest district saw drops in ISTEP scores at the vast majority of schools. Scores fell across the state, but the situation was worse in IPS, where the passing rate went down by 4 percentage points to 25.3 percent in 2016.

IPS consistently scores lower than surrounding suburban communities, but after two years of falling scores, passing rates are particularly low. Just one in four elementary and middle school students passed the math and reading sections of the test — and fewer than 10 percent of high school students passed the new 10th-grade exam.

The news is a blow to a district that has embarked on a radical new course with the aim of improving student outcomes.

School board president Mary Ann Sullivan, who had not yet seen results, said she couldn’t draw conclusions without analyzing the scores more closely but said low scores could be concerning.

“The whole point of doing the strategies that we’ve implemented is to improve student achievement,” she said. “So we’re going to need to know, if student achievement is not improving, what’s going on?”

The district declined to comment on the test results.

Last year was the first test of the district’s new strategy for turning around failing schools by converting them to innovation schools, which are run by outside charter operators or nonprofits but still considered part of the district. (Teachers at innovation schools are not part of the union.)

The jury is still out on whether the approach will be successful, but the first results are disappointing.

School 103, which was the first failing school to convert to innovation status, actually saw a decline in the number of students passing the test during its first year under the new charter manager, Phalen Leadership Academies. Just 4.6 percent of students passed (down from 9.6 percent the year before).

Schools undergoing wrenching changes frequently see their scores drop at first. That’s exactly what happened at School 103. But another school that made the switch this year, School 93, saw its scores rise by 11 percentage points.

School 93 was taken over by the team that developed the Project Restore turnaround model last year, and it converted to innovation status this fall.

Principal Nicole Fama said one reason she thinks their students did comparatively well is that the Project Restore approach relies on regularly testing students.

“To our kids, who take tests every day, it’s nothing,” Fama said. “They are not scared because they are used to that rigor.”

But overall, the results do not look good for the district. One particularly bleak outcome is that some of the district’s marquee schools saw double-digit declines in passing rates.

At School 79 — which has won praise for serving a huge population of English language learners — scores dropped by 17 percentage points. At School 74, a thriving Spanish immersion magnet school, they were down 15 percentage points. Nearly all of the eight IPS schools with double-digit declines had previously earned high marks from the state.

One low-performing school saw a double-digit decline in passing rates: At School 43 they went from low (16.2 percent) to dismal (5.3 percent). The neighborhood school on the mid-north side of downtown had a tumultuous year: The school struggled with discipline, some classes went months without permanent teachers and the principal left without warning in the middle of the year. (The school has a new principal this year, and community leaders are working to develop a long-term plan.)

For the first year, high school students were also required to take ISTEP, and across the state, they did far worse than elementary and middle school students on the test. In IPS, just 9.9 percent of 10th-graders passed the test.

The results come as the value of standardized testing increasingly is being questioned in Indiana and beyond.

School board member Gayle Cosby declined to discuss the results because she said there are more accurate measures of school performance, and Sullivan also suggested they get too much emphasis.

“I think they are a very incomplete measure of how schools are doing,” Sullivan said. But, she added, “I am still a supporter of having some sort of assessment that can take the temperature across the state and across the nation.”

Correction: an earlier version of this story misreported the passing rate at School 103. It was 4.6 percent.

Surprising report

EXCLUSIVE: Did online snafus skew Tennessee test scores? Analysts say not much

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will release the results of Tennessee's 2017-18 standardized test this week, but the reliability of those TNReady scores has been in question since this spring's problem-plagued administration of the online exam.

An independent analysis of technical problems that disrupted Tennessee’s online testing program this spring is challenging popular opinion that student scores were significantly tainted as a result.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Wednesday that the disruptions to computerized testing had “small to no impact” on scores, based on a monthlong analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO. The Virginia-based technical group has expertise in psychometrics, the science behind educational assessments.

“We do believe these are valid, reliable scores,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on the eve of releasing state- and district-level scores for TNReady, the state’s standardized test in its third year.


Here are five things to know as Tennessee prepares to release TNReady scores


The state hired the research group to scrutinize several issues, including whether frequent online testing snafus made this year’s results unreliable. For instance, during at least seven days out of the three-week testing window, students statewide reported problems logging in, staying online, and submitting their tests — issues that eventually prompted the Legislature to roll back the importance of scores in students’ final grades, teacher evaluations, and school accountability systems.

But the analysis did not reveal a dramatic impact.

“For students who experienced the disruption, the analysis did not find any systematic effect on test scores that resulted from lapses in time between signing in and submitting their tests,” McQueen told Chalkbeat.

There was, however, a “small but consistent effect” if a student had to log on multiple times in order to complete the test, she said.

“When I say small, we’re talking about an impact that would be a handful of scale score points out of, say, a possible 200 or 250 points,” McQueen said.

Analysts found some differences in test score averages between 2017 and 2018 but concluded they were not due to the technical disruptions.

“Plausible explanations could be the students just didn’t know the (academic) standards as well and just didn’t do as well on the test,” McQueen said. “Or perhaps they were less motivated after learning that their scores would not count in their final grades after the legislation passed. … The motivation of our students is an unknown we just can’t quantify. We can’t get in their minds on motivation.”

About half of the 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested with computers, and the other half used paper materials in the state’s transition to online exams. Those testing online included all high school students.

Out of about 502,000 end-of-course tests administered to high schoolers, educators filed about 7,600 irregularity reports – about 1.4 percent – related to problems with test administration, which automatically invalidated those results.

The state asked the analysts specifically to look at the irregularity reports for patterns that could be cause for concern, such as demographic shifts or excessive use of invalidations. They found none.

TNReady headaches started on April 16 – the first day of testing – when students struggled to log on. More problems emerged during the weeks that followed until technicians finally traced the issues to a combination of “bugs in the software” and the slowness of a computerized tool that helps students in need of audible instructions. At one point, officials with testing company Questar blamed a possible cyberattack for shutting down its online platform, but state investigators later dismissed that theory.

While this year’s scores officially are mostly inconsequential, McQueen emphasized Wednesday that the results are still valuable for understanding student performance and growth and analyzing the effectiveness of classroom instruction across Tennessee.

“TNReady scores should be looked at just like any data point in the scheme of multiple data points,” she said. “That’s how we talk about this every year. But it’s an important data point.”

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.