Are Children Learning

ISTEP pass rates are below 10 percent at six IPS schools

Like nearly all schools across the state, Indianapolis Public Schools saw ISTEP scores take a steep drop in 2015, but at the schools at the lowest rung of the district’s results the scores were especially bleak.

Among the state’s lowest scoring schools are six from IPS that saw the percentage of students who passed both the math and English sections of ISTEP drop to the single digits.

Last year just three schools in the state scored that poorly.

Indiana knew there would be a dramatic dip in ISTEP scores in 2015, following the introduction of new standards in 2014 and a more difficult test to match. For IPS, the district-wide passing rate fell 22 percentage points, which mirrored exactly the decline across the state. But many IPS schools already were among the worst performing in Indiana — in both 2014 and 2015 only four other Indiana school districts had lower passing rates on ISTEP.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said he didn’t put much stock in looking solely at ISTEP scores as a measure of success. He said the district’s staff will look closely at the schools that saw the greatest drops in scores and at those with long records of poor performance but wouldn’t dwell on the state test’s grim verdict.

“We don’t really think these results are reflective of the work of our students and staff,” he said.

Within IPS, there was wide variation in ISTEP scores among schools.

Four of the state’s 20 lowest scoring schools were in the district, but it also has the top performing public school. At Merle Sidener Gifted Academy, a selective magnet school, 95.5 percent of students passed the test.

That’s more than 30 times the passing rate for middle school students at John Marshall High School, where just 3 percent passed. In other words, about 10 students out of the 340 middle school students at Marshall passed ISTEP.

Marshall has the lowest pass rate in IPS, but it still faired better than seven other schools in the state. The middle school scores at Marshall have been the worst in the district for three years running. In 2014, 15 percent of Marshall students passed ISTEP. That number fell by 12 percentage points in 2015.

There were surprises at a few schools in the district, where scores dropped dramatically. For example, at School 56, a magnet Montessori school, the passing percentage sank by 55 percentage points — the worst drop in the state. In 2014, School 56 was one of the top 10 schools in IPS, winning accolades for a big turnaround from low scores in the past.

The second biggest drop in IPS was at Cold Spring School, another magnet school and one with a record of strong performance on tests. Passing rates at the school declined by 48 percentage points, and just 28 percent of students passed in 2015. Cold Spring is looking to convert to an innovation school, which would have significantly more independence from the district.

Even so, IPS had some success stories. School 107, for example, was in very exclusive company. It was one of just four schools in the state that actually saw its ISTEP passing percentage improve. The school saw a big dip in scores in 2014, so the improvement was something of a rebound.

IPS declined repeated requests to interview school principals or district administrators about the results. Ferebee answered questions after attending a summit meeting with Mayor Joe Hogsett this morning after IPS said nobody was available to discuss ISTEP.

Schools that have repeatedly struggled with low scores have already been targeted for changes, Ferebee said. For example, four of the schools where fewer than 10 percent of students passed the test are combined middle and high schools like Marshall.

Middle school students also had some of the lowest test scores in IPS in 2014, and the IPS board has pledged to remove middle school students from high schools as a way of improving test scores.

The other two schools with the lowest passing rates in IPS also have long records of poor test scores. School 103, which received failing grades from the state for four years running, was converted into the district’s first innovation school this year. The school is now run by the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school network under a contract with IPS.

The other elementary school with a single-digit pass rate is School 44, a long-struggling school. District leaders will decide whether to make changes at School 44 and other persistently low-scoring schools in the coming weeks, Ferebee said.

“We wouldn’t use this one snapshot in time to determine whether or not we’re making progress or which schools are struggling,” he said. “(But) we continue to be worried about particularly our schools that have been historically low performing.”

The 2015 ISTEP has been plagued by problems and controversy, most recently the revelation from the Indianapolis Star that thousands of tests may have been misscored due to a computer malfunction.

Test scores are typically tied to several accountability measures, from teacher pay to school letter grades. But a senate bill that would suspend those repercussions for the most recent test is winning bipartisan support.

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McQueen declares online practice test of TNReady a success

PHOTO: Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

Tennessee’s computer testing platform held steady Tuesday as thousands of students logged on to test the test that lumbered through fits and starts last spring.

Hours after completing the 40-minute simulation with the help of more than a third of the state’s school districts, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared the practice run a success.

“We saw what we expected to see: a high volume of students are able to be on the testing platform simultaneously, and they are able to log on and submit practice tests in an overlapping way across Tennessee’s two time zones,” McQueen wrote district superintendents in a celebratory email.

McQueen ordered the “verification test” as a precaution to ensure that Questar, the state’s testing company, had fixed the bugs that contributed to widespread technical snafus and disruptions in April.

The spot check also allowed students to gain experience with the online platform and TNReady content.

“Within the next week, the districts that participated will receive a score report for all students that took a practice test to provide some information about students’ performance that can help inform their teachers’ instruction,” McQueen wrote.

The mock test simulated real testing conditions that schools will face this school year, with students on Eastern Time submitting their exams while students on Central Time were logging on.

In all, about 50,000 students across 51 districts participated, far more than the 30,000 high schoolers who will take their exams online after Thanksgiving in this school year’s first round of TNReady testing. Another simulation is planned before April when the vast majority of testing begins both online and with paper materials.

McQueen said her department will gather feedback this week from districts that participated in the simulation.

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Tennessee students to test the test under reworked computer platform

PHOTO: Getty Images

About 45,000 students in a third of Tennessee districts will log on Tuesday for a 40-minute simulation to make sure the state’s testing company has worked the bugs out of its online platform.

That platform, called Nextera, was rife with glitches last spring, disrupting days of testing and mostly disqualifying the results from the state’s accountability systems for students, teachers, and schools.

This week’s simulation is designed to make sure those technical problems don’t happen again under Questar, which in June will finish out its contract to administer the state’s TNReady assessment.

Tuesday’s trial run will begin at 8:30 a.m. Central Time and 9 a.m. Eastern Time in participating schools statewide to simulate testing scheduled for Nov. 26-Dec. 14, when some high school students will take their TNReady exams. Another simulation is planned before spring testing begins in April on a much larger scale.

The simulation is expected to involve far more than the 30,000 students who will test in real life after Thanksgiving. It also will take into account that Tennessee is split into two time zones.

“We’re looking at a true simulation,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, noting that students on Eastern Time will be submitting their trial test forms while students on Central Time are logging on to their computers and tablets.

The goal is to verify that Questar, which has struggled to deliver a clean TNReady administration the last two years, has fixed the online problems that caused headaches for students who tried unsuccessfully to log on or submit their end-of-course tests.

Here’s a list of everything that went wrong with TNReady testing in 2018

The two primary culprits were functions that Questar added after a successful administration of TNReady last fall but before spring testing began in April: 1) a text-to-speech tool that enabled students with special needs to receive audible instructions; and 2) coupling the test’s login system with a new system for teachers to build practice tests.

Because Questar made the changes without conferring with the state, the company breached its contract and was docked $2.5 million out of its $30 million agreement.

“At the end of the day, this is about vendor execution,” McQueen told members of the State Board of Education last week. “We feel like there was a readiness on the part of the department and the districts … but our vendor execution was poor.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

She added: “That’s why we’re taking extra precautions to verify in real time, before the testing window, that things have actually been accomplished.”

By the year’s end, Tennessee plans to request proposals from other companies to take over its testing program beginning in the fall of 2019, with a contract likely to be awarded in April.

The administration of outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has kept both of Tennessee’s top gubernatorial candidates — Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee — in the loop about the process. Officials say they want to avoid the pitfalls that happened as the state raced to find a new vendor in 2014 after the legislature pulled the plug on participating in a multi-state testing consortium known as PARCC.

Why state lawmakers share the blame, too, for TNReady testing headaches

“We feel like, during the first RFP process, there was lots of content expertise, meaning people who understood math and English language arts,” McQueen said. “But the need to have folks that understand assessment deeply as well as the technical side of assessment was potentially missing.”