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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.