Northridge Middle School Math Class

Students work through math problems during Mrs. Danielle Madison's 7th grade math class at Northridge Middle School on Friday. The North Montgomery Community School Corporation had more than half of its students pass the math portion of the 2019 ILEARN exam. The Indiana Department of Education released the results for schools across the state this week.

Educators across the state would still prefer to see more funding go to the classroom rather than spending millions on standardized testing that may or may not accurately reflect the effectiveness of teachers and quality of schools. 

Results for the 2019

ILEARN exam released this week showed a significant drop in passing rates compared to last year’s ISTEP exam, which state leaders had warned in recent weeks would be the case.

“We were expecting that due to the new format, questions with greater depth of knowledge and the fact that the test is adaptive, which means that as the students progress with accuracy, the content advances,” North Montgomery Schools Superintendent Dr. Colleen Moran said.

Fewer than half of Indiana students met expected achievement levels on the state’s new standardized test. Statewide results show that 47.9 percent of students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded proficiency standards in language arts and 47.8 percent in math. Both are lower than the passing rates for last year’s ISTEP exam when 64.6 percent passed language arts and 58.9 percent passed math.

ILEARN results show that only 37.1 percent of students statewide met or exceeded standards on both the language arts and math exams. 

South Montgomery, North Montgomery and Southeast Fountain schools all scored above the state average in both subjects this spring. Corporation results show that at South Montgomery Schools, where 68.5 percent of students passed the previous ISTEP exams, only 42 percent passed both the language arts and math portions of ILEARN. North Montgomery Schools had 41.3 percent pass both exams after 52.5 percent passed ISTEP last year. Only 38.3 percent passed ILEARN at Southeast Fountain Schools after 54.5 percent passed ISTEP a year ago.

At Crawfordsville Community Schools, 25.2 percent of students passed ILEARN’s language arts and math exams after 39.3 percent had passed ISTEP.

“The test is one way to compare our schools and corporation to other schools and corporations, and ILEARN offers greater detail on student performance than ISTEP offered,” South Montgomery Schools Superintendent Dr. Shawn Greiner said.

It’s unclear how much the scores can actually be useful for schools. Even before the ILEARN results were released to the public, Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders called for lawmakers to approve a one-year delay in using the test scores so they don’t hurt teacher evaluations or the A-F ratings for schools.

State schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said the ILEARN and ISTEP exams aren’t comparable. And, she said, more than half of Indiana’s schools would receive D or F ratings if the state Department of Education used the new test results to produce those ratings. About 15 percent of schools received such ratings based on last year’s ISTEP exam.

The Indiana State Board of Education passed a resolution Wednesday saying it won’t assign school letter grades for the 2018-19 school year “until the appropriate actions have been taken to hold schools and teachers harmless.” Once that’s done, the board will hold a special meeting to assign school letter grades. 

Still, letter grades based off this year’s ILEARN scores may not say much either.

“These scores really do not mean much at all to most educators,” said Dan Foster, the first-year superintendent at Southeast Fountain Schools. “This is the third different test in three years, with this test in an entirely new format. It does not effectively measure our students, staff or schools. Many students, even as young as third grade, sense the ‘pressure’ this one standardized test creates. Many students do not perform well or as well under these conditions.”

About 500,000 students in grades 3-8 took the new test last spring after state legislatures in 2017 ordered it as a replacement for the ISTEP exams. Millions of state dollars have been spent on both standardized tests. Educators see millions that could desperately be used in schools.

“If you take every school in the state and list them in order from richest to poorest and then take every school in the state and list their ISTEP or ILEARN scores from highest to lowest, those lists would be almost identical,” Crawfordsville Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling said. “These tests are measuring wealth and poverty — nothing more.”

Should the state correct the issues with ILEARN, it could be a valuable tool for schools. Foster believes, however, that a once-a-year assessment isn’t a fair representation of the corporation’s students and teachers. He said there are other assessments that schools use to gauge progress.

Moran and Greiner said their schools use data from the Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA, to review progress three times throughout the school year.

Anthony Tharp, the Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment for North Montgomery Schools, said the reports generated from ILEARN results is much better analysis than the previous ISTEP pass-fail system.

“The reports are based on a scaled score method to show if a student is college or career ready with four areas of reporting — below proficiency, approaching, at proficiency and above proficiency,” he said. “We have been reviewing ILEARN results as an administrative team and administrators have been sharing with their staff. We are a profession that maintains a growth mindset with the intrinsic motivation being student-centered. It is hard work, but it is worth it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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