After a tumultuous year, Indiana school leaders are reviewing very low state test scores that largely show what they already knew about the pandemic’s effects on learning.
And, for the third year in a row, the test scores don’t count.
So why do this year’s ILEARN results matter?
“This is probably the most important time in the past few decades where we really need to pay attention to student data,” said Tommy Reddicks, CEO of the Paramount charter school network. “While it doesn’t give us a perfect picture, it’s certainly a very telling picture.”
As school officials review results ahead of the public release of ILEARN scores next month, several Indianapolis educators say the results offer a critical snapshot of student learning — and will help gauge students’ recovery from the pandemic in the years to come.
Here are three things to watch with Indiana’s 2021 ILEARN results.
Expect scores to be very low.
It’s not yet clear how far passing rates have fallen, though state officials acknowledged declines in English and more significant ones in math.
That paints a bleak picture considering the unexpectedly low scores in 2019, the last time ILEARN was administered. About 37% of students in grades 3-8 passed both the English and math sections of the test that year, which many attributed to the new test format and tougher standards.
“Our parents will be very concerned when they see the district-level scores because of how much lower they are than what they were two years ago,” said Perry Township Superintendent Pat Mapes.
Despite some concerns about students taking the standardized test during such a difficult year, Indiana’s legislative leaders supported giving ILEARN to get a look at where students stand.
Many school leaders expected the declines, which mirror what they’ve seen in measuring student progress throughout the year. And they stressed that the low scores reflect the instability that the pandemic wrought on the school year.
“That will be an asterisk that needs to be beside the 2021 results forever,” said Mapes, who also serves as a member of the State Board of Education.
He expects that it will likely take two more years to get students caught up on missed lessons.
How will remote students stack up against their in-person peers?
School leaders are particularly interested in examining any trends among students who learned virtually compared with those who returned in person.
“There’s a considerable drop based on the number of days kids were in school,” Mapes said.
Compared with students in grades 3-5, who were mostly allowed to come back to classrooms five days a week, Perry Township saw a significant dip in scores among students in grades 6-8. The older students spent much of the year on a hybrid schedule, only coming in twice a week and working online three days a week.
That’s part of the reason why Perry Township decided not to offer an all-remote option again next school year.
For Reddicks at Paramount, tracking these trends could both help current students and improve the quality of future virtual instruction. Spurred by the pandemic, Paramount is launching its own virtual school, which will be one of two all-virtual options for Indianapolis Public Schools students next year.
“Anything we can do to identify a trend to help steer our measures going into the next school year is going to be positive for us,” Reddicks said.
Building math skills was the toughest piece of the equation.
In math, concepts build on each other — it’s hard to understand multiplication, for example, without a grasp of addition. But students have missed large chunks of learning, starting from when schools unexpectedly shut down in the spring of 2020. Throughout this school year, health officials periodically restricted in-person learning, and many students faced weeks of quarantines.
“It was like building a house on quicksand,” said Eddie Rangel, executive director of Adelante Schools, which runs Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School.
Rangel and other school administrators are reviewing each student’s scores to try to gain more insights into which concepts they missed and how teachers need to adjust instruction next year to help them catch up.
“These serve as the brutal truths of where our students are in terms of academic performance,” Rangel said.