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4 things to know before Indiana releases 2018 ISTEP test scores

A row of computers line a classroom at Aspire Hanley Elementary School in Memphis.
A row of computers line a classroom at Aspire Hanley Elementary School in Memphis.
J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat

UPDATE: On Thursday morning, Indiana Department of Education officials said ISTEP results would not be presented at the Indiana State Board of Education’s meeting on Sept. 5. It is not clear when the state board is expected to sign off on the scores.

Indiana was expected to get its last full round of results from the state’s beleaguered ISTEP test next week, which are used primarily to grade schools and determine state consequences.

This will be the fourth year Indiana has used the updated version of ISTEP, marking the longest stretch the test has remained largely consistent in recent years. The longer a test is in place, the more likely scores will rise as students and teachers become familiar with the test and the content. But so far, there’s been little to no improvement in scores since this version of ISTEP was introduced.

And next year, the state is scrapping ISTEP for elementary and middle school students altogether.

The scores won’t come as a surprise to schools or parents, who have had access to them since earlier this summer, but before the public release, state board members have to approve the results.

1. Passing rates will probably remain about the same.

Scores haven’t changed much after taking a tumble in 2015, when the state put in place more challenging academic standards and an updated ISTEP test. So if the pattern holds, it’s probably safe to say Indiana won’t see any dramatic swings up or down this year, either.

Only about half of Indiana elementary and middle school students passed the test in both English and math last year, and about one-third of high-schoolers did. The test was designed to be more difficult that the previous version of ISTEP, but even experts have said they’re a little surprised Indiana hasn’t seen a more significant rebound in the years since it was first given. Since 2015, passing rates on both exams have changed by just a percentage point or so, sometimes up, sometimes down.

2. But passing rates still matter.

Test scores matter for schools and school districts because they are the driving factor behind the A-F grades the state uses to rate schools. And that helps determine state intervention — not to mention schools’ public image. If enough kids don’t pass and schools receive failing grades for four years, state officials get involved and could potentially close a school. Federal education officials also use test score data to determine which schools need more intensive support from the state.

Even as state leaders consider changing how they grade schools, test scores will likely remain a central measurement of their quality.

3. There’s a new test on the horizon for next year.

The state’s new ILEARN exam will be given for the first time next spring, and it’s expected to be shorter, easier to administer, and have a faster score turnaround. It’ll also be a “smart” test, meaning it will adjust to students’ performance. That means all students won’t answer the same static group of questions. Instead, they will be given questions that are easier or harder based on how they answered previous ones. This “computer-adaptive” test can provide more feedback on what students know and what needs to be retaught.

ILEARN will probably not be comparable to this year’s ISTEP results. Adam Baker, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said passing levels for ILEARN won’t be created until after students take the test in the spring. Department officials are already discussing with policymakers and others so they understand that with a new test come new measurement scales.

“The intent is not to simply carry forward the ISTEP expectations,” Baker said.

4. But ISTEP will linger for high school students.

That’s because of recently passed legislation that derailed earlier plans for a new batch of end-of-course exams. Now, the state is changing direction to move toward adopting a college entrance exam for high-schoolers, which officials say will better align state tests with new graduation requirements and be more meaningful for students. That’s set to begin for the graduating class of 2023 — today’s eighth graders.

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