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ISTEP scores are coming tomorrow. Here’s how this year’s scores could change and why they matter.

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
A fourth-grade student does test-prep in his English class.

Although ISTEP’s run in Indiana will soon come to an end, there are still two more years of results to comb through. The latest are set to be released to the public Wednesday.

Years of testing chaos have meant that many in the state — particularly teachers, students and parents — have developed testing fatigue. Changing standards, changing tests and changing administrations have meant there’s been little consistency during a time that can be stressful for those in the classroom.

That stress isn’t unfounded, either — test scores are still the driving piece behind state and federal accountability, meaning they still factor heavily into A-F grades. If enough kids don’t pass and schools receive failing grades for four years, state officials get involved.

Below, we explain the ups and downs Indiana has seen for the past few years, as well as what we’ll be watching for in the new test results state officials will put out at Wednesday’s Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

Let’s set the scene.

This year marks the third year Indiana students have taken largely the same test as in prior years. The test was revamped for 2015 after Indiana abandoned the Common Core standards, one of the few moments of agreement between then-Gov. Mike Pence and then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Confusion ensued. Teachers were met that fall with a yet-to-be-created test based on new Indiana-specific academic standards, which were designed to be much tougher.

When the 2015 test did take shape, it was projected to be nearly twice as long as its predecessor, prompting Pence to sign an executive order to shorten it. The move inflamed tensions between Pence and Ritz, and ISTEP became even more politically charged. Subsequent scoring issues and a delayed release didn’t help.

But even when we did finally get results, it wasn’t the end of the drama. Almost half of all kids who took the test failed math, English or both. Statewide, the percentage of students who passed both English and math nosedived by 22 percentage points to 53.5 percent.

Before that, Indiana students collectively hadn’t lost ground on ISTEP since 2009. Taken together, the upheaval before, during, and after the 2015 test played a big role in lawmaker’s eventual decision to scrap ISTEP altogether last year.

The 2016 test was expected to offer some redemption — the first year is always rough, experts say. But the anticipated rebound did not occur. Scores dropped for the second year in a row. While the test format and content were the same, Ritz posited that the state’s switch in vendors from CTB to Pearson could explain some of the decline.

So what’s on deck for 2017?

That’s tough to say. If we use previous years as an example, another dip isn’t out of the question. But given the relative stability of the last couple years (no new test, no new vendor), this could be the year Indiana gets its score rebound.

What we do know is the 2017 testing period went off with fewer glitches compared to prior years, although a calculator mishap could force some students to retake the test.

Ok, so it’s been a little smoother. Why does that matter?

It certainly bodes well for state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who helmed the test’s administration for the first time this past spring. She ran a campaign based on her strength as an administrator, and so far, that appears to be the case.

McCormick is also responsible for overseeing and implementing the state’s next test, which will be called ILEARN and given for the first time in 2019. If she has a good run with ISTEP, she has a better shot of ensuring the next state test can begin to recover from ISTEP’s “broken brand,” as one lawmaker put it.

It’s also the first year of testing under a new governor. While Gov. Eric Holcomb has been far less involved with education than his predecessor, as the state’s chief executive, he could get caught in the crossfire should scores tumble.

Go back to lawmakers — how are they involved?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Probably no state officials have had a more active role in shaping Indiana’s test than lawmakers, who are responsible for the many twists and turns the system as a whole has taken over the years. They wrote the laws that took us away from Common Core and its cheaper associated test, created ISTEP’s framework and allocated money to it.

And, they ultimately decided to kill it, sparking yet another bout of test development that will again disrupt what small amount of stability the last two years have wrought.

2017 results likely won’t have much bearing on legislation this session — the ILEARN bill last session took care of that. But as federal accountability rules continue shifting and Indiana looks to adjust A-F grades in the future, it’s important to remember lawmakers heavily influence not just how tests look, but how test scores are used.

Check back in with Chalkbeat tomorrow afternoon for news on the 2017 ISTEP scores. You can find all of our testing coverage here.

good news bad news

Most Tennessee districts are showing academic growth, but districts with the farthest to go improved the least

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

It’s not just Memphis: Across Tennessee, districts with many struggling schools posted lower-than-expected growth scores on this year’s state exams, according to data released Tuesday.

The majority of Tennessee’s 147 districts did post scores that suggest students are making or exceeding expected progress, with over a third earning the top growth score.

But most students in three of the state’s four largest districts — in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga — aren’t growing academically as they should, and neither are those in most of their “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

The divide prompted Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to send a “good news, bad news” email to superintendents.

“These results point to the ability for all students to grow,” she wrote of the top-performing districts, many of which have a wide range of academic achievement and student demographics.

Of those in the bottom, she said the state would analyze the latest data to determine “critical next steps,” especially for priority schools, which also are located in high-poverty communities.

“My message to the leaders of Priority schools … is that this level of growth will never get kids back on track, so we have to double-down on what works – strong instruction and engagement, every day, with no excuses,” McQueen said.

Growth scores are supposed to take poverty into account, so the divide suggests that either the algorithm didn’t work as it’s supposed to or, in fact, little has happened to change conditions at the state’s lowest-performing schools, despite years of aggressive efforts in many places.

The results are bittersweet for Tennessee, which has pioneered growth measures for student learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools under its Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

On the one hand, the latest TVAAS data shows mostly stable growth through the transition to TNReady, the state’s new test aligned to new academic standards, in the first year of full testing for grades 3-11. On the other hand, Tennessee has invested tens of millions of dollars and years of reforms toward improving struggling schools — all part of its massive overhaul of K-12 education fueled by its 2009 federal Race to the Top award.

The state-run Achievement School District, which launched in the Race to the Top era to turn around the lowest-performing schools, saw a few bright spots, but almost two-thirds of schools in its charter-reliant portfolio scored in the bottom levels of student growth.

Shelby County’s own turnaround program, the Innovation Zone, fared poorly too, with a large percentage of its Memphis schools scoring 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, after years of scoring 4s and 5s.


District profile: Most Memphis schools score low on student growth


Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the results a “wakeup call” for the state’s biggest district in Memphis.

“When you have a population of kids in high poverty that were already lagging behind on the old, much easier test, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a lot of work to do here,” he said, citing the need to support teachers in mastering the state’s new standards.

“The good part is that we’ve seen the test now and we know what’s expected. The bad part is we’ve seen the test … and it’s a different monster,” he told Chalkbeat.

You can find district composite scores below. (A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year.) For a school-by-school list, visit the state’s website.

exclusive

Most Memphis schools score low on student growth under new state test

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

More than half of Memphis schools received the lowest possible score for student growth on Tennessee’s new test last school year, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat for Shelby County Schools.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest measure, about 54 percent of the district’s 187 schools scored in the bottom rung of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

That includes most schools in the Innovation Zone, a reversal after years of showing high growth in the district’s prized turnaround program.

Charter schools fared poorly as well, as did schools that were deemed among the state’s fastest-improving in 2015.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the scores a “huge wakeup call.”

“It shows that we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Monday. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be frustrating. … It starts with making sure we’re supporting teachers around mastering the new standards.”

District leaders across Tennessee have been trying to wrap their heads around the latest growth scores since receiving the data in late August from the State Department of Education. Only two years earlier, the Memphis district garnered the highest possible overall growth score. But since then, the state has switched to a harder test called TNReady that is aligned for the first time to more rigorous academic standards.

TVAAS results are scheduled to be released publicly this week, but Chalkbeat obtained a copy being circulated within Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district.

The data is prompting questions from some Memphis educators — and assurances from state officials — over the validity of TVAAS, the state’s system for measuring learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools.

This is the first year of issuing district-wide TVAAS scores since 2015. That’s because of the state’s cancellation of 2016 testing for grades 3-8 due mostly to failures in the switch to online testing.

Some educators wonder whether the bumpy switch to TNReady is a factor in this year’s nosedive, along with changes in how the scores are calculated.

For example, data for fourth-graders is missing since there is no prior state testing in third grade for comparison. Elementary and middle schools also don’t have growth scores for social studies, since the 2017 questions were a trial run and the results don’t count toward a school’s score.

Hopson acknowledged concerns over how the state compares results from “two very different tests which clearly are apples and oranges,” but he added that the district won’t use that as an excuse.

“Notwithstanding those questions, it’s the system upon which we’re evaluated on and judged,” he said.

State officials stand by TVAAS. They say drops in proficiency rates resulting from a harder test have no impact on the ability of teachers, schools and districts to earn strong TVAAS scores, since all students are experiencing the same change.

“Because TVAAS always looks at relative growth from year to year, not absolute test scores, it can be stable through transitions,” said Sara Gast, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education.

Shelby County Schools is not the only district with disappointing TVAAS results. In Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools logged low growth scores. But Gast said that more districts earned average or high growth scores of 3, 4 or 5 last school year than happened in 2015.

Want to help us understand this issue? Send your observations to [email protected]

Below is a breakdown of Shelby County’s TVAAS scores. A link to a school-by-school list of scores is at the bottom of this story.

Districtwide

School-wide scores are a combination of growth in each tested subject: literacy, math, science and social studies.

Fifty three schools saw high growth in literacy, an area where Shelby County Schools has doubled down, especially in early grades. And 51 schools saw high growth in math.

Note: A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year. A score of 1 represents significantly lower academic growth compared to peers across the state.

2017

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 101 54%
2 19 10%
3 20 11%
4 10 5%
5 37 20%

2015

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 58 28%
2 16 8%
3 38 19%
4 18 9%
5 75 37%

Innovation Zone

Out of the 23 schools in the district’s program to turn around low-performing schools, most received a growth score of 1 in 2017. That stands in stark contrast to prior years since the program opened in 2012, when most schools were on a fast growth track.

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 14
2 2
3 2
4 0
5 5

Reward schools

Nearly half of 32 schools deemed 2015 Tennessee reward schools for high growth saw a major drop in TVAAS scores in 2017:

  • Central High
  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Germanshire Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Middle Academy
  • Kirby High
  • Memphis Business Academy Elementary
  • Power Center Academy High
  • Power Center Academy Middle
  • Ross Elementary
  • Sheffield High
  • South Park Elementary
  • Southwind High
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Westside Elementary

Charter schools

Charter schools authorized by Shelby County Schools fared similarly to district-run schools in growth scores, with nearly half receiving a TVAAS of 1 compared to 26 percent of charter schools receiving the same score in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 18
2 6
3 7
4 2
5 7

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 10
2 2
3 7
4 3
5 16

Optional schools

Half of the the district’s optional schools, which are special studies schools that require students to test into its programs, received a 1 on TVAAS. That’s compared to just 19 percent in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 23
2 6
3 5
4 2
5 10

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
2 5
3 6
4 5
5 14

You can sort through a full list of TVAAS scores for Shelby County Schools here.