Are Children Learning

ISTEP rescore plans reduced after lawmakers consider high costs, expert advice

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee, authored HB 1384, in which voucher language was added late last week.

Republican lawmakers have scaled back their ambitious plans to rescore the 2015 ISTEP test.

Although legislation introduced earlier this month originally suggested a full rescore of the controversial exam — meaning hundreds of thousands of tests would be re-opened and millions of student answers would be re-examined — the bill’s author now says that proposal would be too expensive, coming in at roughly $8 million to $10 million.

The author, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, announced during a House Education Committee meeting today that his bill — House Bill 1395 — now calls for just a partial rescore of a smaller sample of exams.
The smaller effort could boost public trust in the exam without breaking the budget, he said.

“(A rescore would) at least try to restore confidence in the assessment as we move forward,” Behning said.

The bill comes in response to heavy criticism of last year’s exam, which was plagued with scoring, test design and technical problems that accompanied new, more challenging standards and a brand-new test.

The tougher standards led to a major drop in scores. The statewide rate of students passing both the math and reading sections of the exam dropped by 22 percentage points to 53.5 percent. All but four of state’s 1,500 public schools saw their scores go down.

Behning’s bill would require the Indiana Department of Education to hire an outside company to rescore short-answer questions on the 2015 ISTEP. If the scores change, the bill would allow the state to use the new results as the baseline for calculating whether a school’s test scores improve or decline in future years. Improvement is a major factor in the state’s new A-F school grading system.

Even as his bill makes its way through the legislature, Behning says he’s still working on some of the details, seeking guidance from test experts and state officials that could lead to amendments.

Ed Roeber, a test expert from Michigan who has consulted on ISTEP for the Indiana State Board of Education, has told the legislature that a sample of 5,000 tests could be enough to verify the exam’s validity as long as the sample includes tests from urban, rural and suburban schools in all parts of the state.

“While this plan involves more steps than simply rescoring all responses to every prompt, it has the potential to answer the questions about the accuracy of hand-scoring without attendant expense of scoring all responses,” Roeber wrote in a letter to the Indiana General Assembly. “Thus, I believe you will be able to achieve your objective of checking on the accuracy of the scoring at lower cost.”

Indiana Deputy Superintendent Danielle Shockey told the committee today that a rescore isn’t necessary because the Department of Education has already conducted numerous reviews of exam, many of which were led by the very test experts Behning is consulting, including Roeber. So far, Shockey said, the state has not found any evidence of test flaws that would have affected student scores.

“The department would like to wait for data to support the need for a costly, very time-consuming rescore,” Shockey said.

It’s also not clear who would pay for the rescore. Behning, whose bill does not specify which state agency would be on the hook for the expense, raised the possibility that the company that made the test, CTB, could be asked to contribute.

“Obviously someone is going to have to pay for it,” Behning said. “We might have to … provide some additional flexibility so money could be moved from the general fund.”

Daniel Altman, a spokesman for Indiana state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, said the Department of Education has talked with the state Attorney General’s office about filing suit against CTB to recover damages for delays in scoring.

If Behning’s bill becomes law, the rescore would not be the first review of the troubled 2015 test. A panel of testing experts already conducted one review after concerns were raised in October over differences in difficulty between the paper version of the exam and the online version.

In December, the Indianapolis Star reported another scoring glitch that could have led to thousands of mis-scored tests. The state then convened a second panel to examine the data and found that the glitch did not affect student scores.

The state also allows parents to ask for a rescore of their child’s test each year. In 2015, more than 61,000 tests were rescored, Shockey said, about three times more than are usually requested. In about 11 percent of rescored exams, scores were changed by a point or more but only a fraction of rescores — 1.76 percent — led to a student moving to a different level, such as from “fail” to “pass.”

Rescores can only lead to a student’s score going up, not down, said Michele Walker, the education department’s test director.

Behning’s bill, which is up for a committee vote later this week, would also create a panel to review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system. The system might need to be adjusted to comply with the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the No Child Left Behind Act in the 2017-18 school year. The new law will still require Indiana to give most students a pass-fail test every year but will allow for some more flexibility.

The 20-person testing and accountability panel would include policymakers, educators and lawmakers appointed by Republican legislative leaders, Gov. Mike Pence and Ritz. Behning said he was open to adding Ritz, a Democrat, as a co-leader of the group.

“I think it’s appropriate that we spend time as policymakers talking to the brightest and best educators … and looking at what our next options are in terms of performance, standards and accountability metrics,” Behning said.

Shockey said the committee could help Indiana move on from the testing problems it’s seen over the past year. It would align with Ritz’s plan to review the state’s testing program.

Ritz has said that the state should consider a testing program that doesn’t rely so heavily on a single, end-of-year exam. She suggested a series of tests that would focus more on how students improve throughout the year.

“Indiana could be a leader in creating a more streamlined, student-centered assessment system,” Shockey said.

beyond high school

Report: Memphis students from poor families less likely to have access to advanced coursework

PHOTO: By Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

While most high school students in Tennessee’s largest district have access to advanced courses to prepare them for college, most of those classes are concentrated in schools with more affluent families.

Of the 14 high schools in Shelby County Schools that offer more than 40 advanced classes, all but one have a lower percentage of students from poor families than the district.

Those schools educate slightly more than half of high school students in the Memphis district. In contrast, about a quarter of high school students are in schools with 20 or fewer advanced courses, according to a new district report.

District officials say those course offerings in the 2017-18 school year are closely correlated with the size of the school: The larger the student population, the more likely the school is to offer advanced courses. The concentration of schools with more affluent students was not examined in the report.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools

The findings are scheduled to be presented at next week’s school board meeting as part of the district’s monthly check-in on various statistics on teaching and student learning.

Taking advanced classes in high school introduces students to college-level coursework and in many cases allows them to skip some college classes — saving students thousands of dollars. And because students from low-income families, who make up about 59 percent of Shelby County Schools, lag behind their more affluent peers in college enrollment, they are encouraged to take more advanced courses.

Advanced courses include programs such as such as Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, International Baccalaureate, and honors courses.

Jessica Lotz, the district’s director of performance management who will present the report, said this year’s numbers are better than last year. Since her last report on the topic, three schools now offer advanced courses for the first time.

Staffing is the biggest barrier to offering more advanced courses, she said. So, additional teacher trainings are planned for the summer.

And district plans are underway to increase the number of students taking those courses. The district is also pursuing federal funds to help students from low-income families pay for dual enrollment courses, and also encouraging area colleges to lower the number of students needed to take a class so that smaller schools can participate.

The number of students taking advanced courses is part of the state Department of Education measure of a being ready for college, or a “ready graduate,” under its new accountability plan.

Scroll down to the bottom of this story for a full chart on the number of advanced courses by high school.

Here are the 14 schools with 40 or more advanced courses each:

  • White Station High (143 advanced courses)
  • Central High (116)
  • Middle College High (98)
  • Germantown High (95)
  • Cordova High (79)
  • Overton High (75)
  • Ridgeway High (74)
  • Bolton High (56)
  • Southwind High (55)
  • Whitehaven High (52)
  • Hollis F. Price Middle College High (46)
  • Kingsbury High (45)
  • Memphis Virtual School (43)
  • East High (42)

Note: The number of courses offered refers to unique advanced courses that are available at a given school, not the total number of times/sections the same course is offered for different groups of students.

Four high schools did not offer any advanced courses: Legacy Leadership Academy, a charter school; The Excel Center, an adult learning school; Newcomer International Center, a new high school program for immigrant students; and Northwest Prep Academy, an alternative school.

Of the advanced courses, International Baccalaureate, a high-profile certification program for high school students worldwide, was the least common. Just three more affluent high schools — Ridgeway, Germantown, and Bolton — offered those courses, according to the district’s data.

Dual enrollment, another category of advanced courses, are taught in partnership with an area college and count toward a postsecondary degree. Though the share of Shelby County Schools students taking dual enrollment courses has increased from about 5 to 9 percent since 2014, the percentage slightly decreased this year compared to last school year.

Most of the high schools, offer a total of 183 dual enrollment courses. But only four of the 16 charter schools in the report offered those classes.

About half of high schools in the district offer a total of 194 Advanced Placement courses, which culminate in a test at the end of the year that can count toward college credit if students score well enough. Most of those classes are concentrated in seven more affluent schools.

Those schools are:

  • White Station High (39 AP courses)
  • Central High (20)
  • Cordova High (15)
  • Kingsbury High (13)
  • Overton High (13)
  • Whitehaven High (11)
  • Southwind High (10)

Honors courses, which count toward an advanced high school diploma but do not count for college credit, were the most common with just over 1,000 across the district. Only seven schools, which were either charter schools or alternative schools, did not offer any honors courses.

One of Shelby County Schools’ goals is to increase the percentage of students prepared for college by 2025. Currently, about 90 percent of students who graduate from the district would be required to take remedial classes in college because of low ACT scores, according to state data. That’s usually a sign that their high school did not adequately prepare them for college classes.

A state report released last fall examining where students go after high school showed that 56 percent of Shelby County Schools’ graduating class of 2016 went on to enroll in a four-year college or university, community college, or technical college. That’s compared to 63 percent of students statewide.

One of the report’s recommendations to boost that number was to improve partnerships with universities and increase the number of advanced course offerings — a recommendation Lotz emphasized Tuesday.

Shelby County Schools partners with the following universities and colleges for dual enrollment courses: Bethel University, Christian Brothers University, LeMoyne Owen College, Southwest Tennessee Community College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology, University of Memphis, and William Moore College of Technology (Moore Tech)

Below you can find the advanced course offerings at each district-run and charter school in Shelby County Schools. Below that you can view the district’s full report.

New research

From an ‘F’ to an ‘A’, Tennessee now sets high expectations for students, says Harvard study

PHOTO: Lisegagne/Getty Images

Criticized for setting low expectations for students just a decade ago, Tennessee has dramatically raised the bar for standards that now rank among the top in the nation, according to a new analysis from Harvard University.

The state earned an “A” for its 2017 proficiency standards in a study released Tuesday by the same researchers who gave Tennessee an “F” in that category in 2009.

The researchers have been tracking state proficiency standards since 2006. Their latest analysis focused on changes since 2009 when, like Tennessee, most states began adopting Common Core academic standards, then began retreating one by one from the nationally endorsed benchmarks.

Did the exodus from a consistent set of standards cause states to lower expectations for students? The researchers say no.

“Our research shows that most all the states have actually improved their standards, and Tennessee has probably improved the most because its standards were so low in the past,” said Paul Peterson, who co-authored the analysis with Daniel Hamlin.

The grades are based on the difference between the percentages of students deemed proficient on state tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the exam administered by the U.S. Department of Education to measure what students know in math and English language arts. The narrower the proficiency gap between those tests, the higher the grade a state received.

Tennessee’s 2009 proficiency gap was 63 percent, an amount that Peterson called “ridiculous” and “the worst in the country” compared to 37 percent nationally.

In 2017, Tennessee’s gap narrowed to less than 3 percent, compared to 9 percent nationally, under revised standards that reached classrooms last fall after the state exited the Common Core brand.

“It’s a dramatic improvement,” Peterson said of Tennessee’s work to align its standards with national expectations.

Interestingly, in other states, the study found virtually no relationship between rising proficiency standards and test score growth — a finding that the researchers called “disheartening.”

“The one exception was Tennessee,” Peterson said of the state’s academic gains on NAEP since 2011. “It has not only raised its standards dramatically, it saw some student gains over the same period.”

Since 2010, higher academic standards has been an integral part of Tennessee’s long-term plan for improving public education. The other two components are an aligned state assessment and across-the-board accountability systems for students, teachers and schools, including a controversial policy to include student growth from standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.

Tennessee poured millions of federal dollars from its 2010 Race to the Top award into training teachers on its new standards. The process began in 2012 with large-scale Common Core trainings and shifted last year to regional trainings aimed at equipping local educators to prepare their peers back home for Tennessee’s revised standards.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Karyn Bailey (left), a facilitator from Williamson County Schools, coaches elementary school teachers during a 2017 exercise on Tennessee’s revised standards for English language arts as part of a two-day training at La Vergne High School, one of 11 training sites across the state.

Implementation really matters. You can’t just make the shift on paper,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who will take part in a panel discussion on the study’s findings Tuesday in Washington, D.C. “You have to do the hard work to implement it on the ground. And that is a long game.”

The Harvard study comes on the heels of a separate but related report by pro-Common Core group Achieve that says Tennessee is essentially being more honest in how its students are doing academically. The state was called out in 2007 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because Tennessee tests showed students doing well, while national tests reported otherwise.

Both analyses come as Tennessee tries to regroup after a problem-plagued return to statewide online testing this spring.

While supporters of Tennessee’s current policy agenda fear that headaches with the state’s standardized test could undo the policies it may be getting right, Peterson said a study like Harvard’s can provide a birds-eye view.

“What happens over a period of years is a better way to look at how a state is doing,” he said, “because things can fluctuate from one year to the next.”

The Harvard research is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. (Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization and also receives funding from both foundations. You can find the list of our supporters here and learn more about Chalkbeat here.)