Are Children Learning

Nearly all Indiana schools see ISTEP scores plunge

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Shocking drops in ISTEP scores have lawmakers scrambling to protect schools and teachers from sanctions.

Here’s how badly Indiana’s schools did on the new ISTEP: Just four of 1,500 public schools that took the 2015 exam had more kids pass than the year before.

Passing rates sank on nearly every measure after the test was retooled to match tougher standards the state adopted in 2014. In all, 93 percent of public schools that took the test the last two years saw their passing rates drop by at least 10 percentage points. Half of schools saw a drop of 20 percentage points or more.

Almost half of all kids who took the test failed math, English or both. Statewide, the percentage of students who passed both English and math nose-dived by 22 percentage points to 53.5 percent.

Under the prior version of ISTEP, the passing percentage had been going up by a percentage point or two each year for the past three years.

The statewide passing percentage for English tumbled down 13 points in 2015 to 67 percent and math fell 22 points to 61 percent passing. Both were close to the decline the Indiana Department of Education had predicted. The tests are not directly comparable to each other because they are so different, but the data shows the new test is clearly much harder.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s warnings of huge drops to come helped spur a reluctant Gov. Mike Pence and Republican legislative leaders this week to promise to rush a bill that would exempt teachers and schools from consequences for newly low scores.

ISTEP is the backbone of an accountability system that can block teachers from pay raises if their students’ scores don’t rise and sever schools from their school districts under state takeover when they receive years of consecutive F-grades.

But not this year.

A senate bill with broad support would prevent school’s A-F grades from going lower than the grades they received last year and shield teachers from consequences of poor scores earned by their students.

In short, after a long bumpy ride that saw problems with ISTEP’s design, administration and scoring, the state’s schools are getting a mulligan.

That will be a relief to many.

Ritz decried years of changing expectations for students, teachers and schools, but she said they could now build up from this new “benchmark.”

“My top priority is the educational, social and emotional well-being of Hoosier students,” she said in a statement. “That is why I believe that is it time for Indiana to move away from the costly, lengthy, pass/fail ISTEP assessment. The one-size-fits-all high stakes approach of the ISTEP needs to end.”

When it came to the schools that struggled the most with the new ISTEP, many of them were in Marion County.

Four of the 10 schools with the deepest drops in their passing rates were from IPS, and one was from Pike Township.

The passing percentage for IPS School 56, which last year ranked among the best in the district at 82.7 percent, fell a whopping 55 percentage points, the worst in the state. This year just 27.9 percent of its students passed.

Another IPS school, Cold Springs School, wasn’t far behind. At 29.1 percent passing, it fell 48 percentage points from 2014, the second biggest drop in the state.

Pike Township’s Snacks Crossing Elementary School was third worst, down 47 percentage points to 24.8 percent passing, and Harshman Middle School of IPS had the state’s ninth biggest drop, down 43 percentage points to 21 percent passing.

Just four schools in the state saw a greater percentage of students pass ISTEP in 2015 than the prior year — Tindley Renaissance charter school, Eminence High School in Morgan County, IPS School 107 and a juvenile justice center in South Bend. Two of them were helped because they were recovering from big drops in 2014.

IPS School 107, for example, saw a big decline in scores in 2014, with a pass rate 16 percentage points below the prior year. Scores at School 107 rebounded slightly in 2015. Although just 34 percent of students passed, the rate was up 6.7 points over the year before despite the tougher new exam. That was the state’s second biggest gain.

The numbers for the lowest-scoring schools were bleak. In 2015 there were 18 schools had fewer than 10 percent of their students pass ISTEP, including six IPS schools. There were just three such schools statewide in 2014.

Even so, IPS did have the state’s top-scoring school again.

Like last year, Sidener Gifted Academy, a celebrated IPS magnet school for students who are identified as gifted, was the top-rated public school in the state, although its passing rate fell slightly to 95.5 percent passing from 100 percent in 2014.

Sidener wasn’t the only top-scoring school that remained among the state’s highest-scorers even after a dip in its passing rate.

In fact, despite all the changes to ISTEP, many of the usual suspects could be found among the best- and worst-scoring schools.

Including Sidener, six of the top 10 public schools from 2014 were back in the top 10 again. Five of the top 10 were from the wealthy Indianapolis suburbs of Carmel and Zionsville. If anything, those districts were even more dominant on the new ISTEP.

For 2016, ISTEP is set for even more changes. The British-based company Pearson has taken over creating the test after more than a decade with CTB/McGraw-Hill. And the test is supposed to include even more sophisticated technology, creating new ways for students to show how they arrived at their answers.

Pearson’s contract runs through 2017. After that, a growing number of lawmakers have raised the idea of scrapping the exam altogether in favor of a shared national exam that students also take in other states.

 

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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.”

PHOTO: TN.gov
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.”