The new normal: About half of Indiana kids passed ISTEP in 2017

Indiana appears to have reached a new normal when it comes to ISTEP scores: For the third straight year, about half of students passed this year’s exams.

The state introduced a new test and set tougher standards in 2015, and as in many states making similar changes, scores dropped dramatically. But after the first shocking year of low scores, there hasn’t been much movement up or down.

“It looks about flatlined,” said State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “They’re never going to be high enough for any of us. Schools are working hard to improve the scores, and we’ll continue to work hard. Obviously ILEARN is going to come in, and that transition will play into this, so it’s good that they’re not decreasing, but we always want to see improvement.”

This year, 51.5 percent of students in grades 3-8 passed both English and math exams, similar to 51.6 percent in 2016.

Nearly two-thirds of students met the state’s standards in English, and 58.6 percent did so in math. Those pass rates each represented a slight — less than 1 percent — decline over last year’s.

For high schools, 34.4 percent of students passed both tests, up from 32.2 percent in 2016. More high schoolers also passed English (up to 60.7 percent from 59 percent) and math (up to 36.9 percent from 34.6 percent).

Passing rates in Indianapolis Public Schools inched down by about 1 percentage point. Fewer than a quarter of elementary and middle school students and less than 10 percent of high schoolers passed both the English and math tests.

The hoped-for ISTEP rebound still has yet to make an appearance across the board. As students and teachers adjusted to new standards, there was some expectation passing rates would eventually come back up. Charity Flores, director of testing for the Indiana Department of Education, said that’s reflected in the slight bump high school passing rates, though not for younger students.

“That was anticipated (for high schools),” Flores said. “I know many in the field hoped we would start to see an increase there.”

The state has only one more year to post those gains. Indiana is expected to ditch ISTEP in 2019 for ILEARN, a new test that is still being created. One good thing for those in the classroom, Flores said, is there won’t be another disruptive change in state standards like before the 2015 test.

“The standards are not changing, so I think it allows stability,” Flores said.

There are a few bright spots compared to last year’s data: 833 elementary schools and 269 high schools saw their passing rates increase this year, compared to 494 elementary schools last year (high school tests were given for the first time in 2016).

How Marion County districts performed

Like last year, Speedway schools had the highest test passing rates in the county, with 64.7 percent of students in grades 3-8 passing both English and math, compared to 61.8 percent in 2016. Franklin Township followed closely with 62.2 percent of students passing both subjects, up from 60.2 percent in 2016.

IPS had the lowest number of elementary and middle school students passing both subjects, with 24.5 percent in 2017, down from 25.3 percent in 2016. Students did better on the English test, with 40.8 percent passing. For math, 30.2 percent of students passed.

Franklin Township posted the highest high school scores, with 45.8 percent of 10th-graders passing both English and math. Speedway came next, with 42 percent of students passing.

IPS had the lowest passing rate among 10th-graders passing both subjects, at 8.8 percent. That’s a decline of about 1.1 percentage points compared to the prior year.

Overall, every district in Marion County has continued to lose ground on kids passing both ISTEP exams since 2015 except Speedway, which saw passing rates rise in 2016 and 2017.

Highs and lows across the state

The school that made the greatest gain on ISTEP this year was a private school, Good Shepherd Christian Academy, leaping from 28 percent passing to 82 percent — almost 54 percentage points. Just 17 students took the test this year. The school is one of 313 schools that received funding from the state through a voucher program last year.

The public school with the largest gains was in Southern Indiana, Fairmont Elementary School in New Albany. The school jumped about 26 percentage points, to 66 percent passing this year, compared to 2016. This year, 151 students took both sections of ISTEP.

Another public school had the steepest decline — George M. Riddle Elementary School in Rochester dropped to 3.6 percent passing from 53.6 percent in 2016. One reason for the drop may be that while 442 students took the English test, just 55 students took the math test.

The passing rate gap between white students and students of color widened slightly from last year. Then, 26.4 percent of black students, 38.1 percent of Hispanic students, and 57.8 percent of white students passed both exams. This year, 25.1 percent of black students, 37.9 percent of Hispanic students, and 58.2 percent of white students passed both exams.

Find your school’s 2017 ISTEP scores here using our interactive database. See all of Chalkbeat’s testing coverage here.

This story has been updated to correct Speedway High School’s passing rate.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.