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.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.