Most public schools in Jackson County experienced a drop in the percentage of students passing both English/language arts and math on last spring’s ISTEP+.
The only schools to see increases were Cortland and Emerson Elementary schools, Seymour Middle School, Brownstown Elementary School and Medora Elementary School.
The Indiana Department of Education released last spring’s ISTEP+ results Wednesday.
Across the state, passing rates remained stable in grades 3 through 8 and rose slightly for 10th grade. Besides English/language arts and math, grades 4, 6 and 10 are tested in science and grades 5 and 7 are tested in social studies.
The test assesses the academic standards Indiana adopted in 2014.
Greg Walker, superintendent of Brownstown Community School Corp., said he was pleased Brownstown schools were at or above the state average in nine of the 14 English/language arts and math testing areas.
But overall, the corporation was still below state average.
The district had 61.7 percent of students pass English, up from the 60 percent the previous year; 57.2 percent passed math, down from 61 percent the previous year; and 49.5 percent passed both sections, down from 50.3 in 2016.
State average was 65.2 percent passing English/language arts, down from 66.1 percent in 2016; 58.5 percent passing math, down from 58.9 percent the previous year and 51.5 percent passing both sections, down from 51.6 in 2016.
Brownstown Elementary School experienced significant gains, increasing the percentage of students passing English/language arts from 56.2 percent in 2016 to 64.7 percent this year; math from 60.3 percent the previous year to 70.4 percent this year; and the number of students passing both increased from 47.8 percent last year to 57.2 percent this year.
Walker attributes the increases to new initiatives put into place by Brownstown Elementary’s new principal, Crystal Street, and the hard work and commitment to improvement made by teachers and students.
“I am proud of the fact that our teachers work very hard to help each child reach his or her potential,” he said.
More work is needed, though, he said, to increase scores at Brownstown Middle School, especially in math, which fell from 61.6 percent of students passing in 2016 to 44 percent passing last spring.
“At the middle school, our math teachers will be attending some professional development seminars to learn how to increase rigor in their subject area,” he said. “We think this will improve scores.”
But Walker said the district doesn’t rely on just ISTEP+ scores to determine academic performance.
“These scores are just one of several we use to gauge how students are progressing,” he said. “They are just one snapshot at a specific time in the year. We also are using a program called K-12 Boost. It allows us to put in scores from different types of assessments to determine if a student is growing at an adequate rate and provide additional support if the student is not.”
At Medora, the second smallest school corporation in the state, pass rates remained below state average with 34.8 percent of students passing English, down from 46.4 percent in 2016; 43.5 percent passing math, up from 37.8 percent in 2016; and 25 percent passing both, down from 31.3 percent.
Principal Austin Absher said she doesn’t feel the test scores accurately reflect what students are learning or what they are capable of achieving.
“No student should ever be measured solely based off of one summative assessment given in one format once a year,” she said.
Absher said for the past two years, teachers have been developing their own curriculum maps and creating formative assessments that align with the curriculum.
“I believe all of this hard work is and will continue to pay off,” she said.
Teachers will use the 2017 test scores to better understand the standards on which students performed well and on ones they did not, Absher said.
“They will use this information to help drive their instructional choices such as reteaching certain skills and concepts,” she added. “The scores will also be used as affirmation for what is working.”
Although the scores provide information, Absher said any curriculum changes are made based on students’ needs and strengths.
“I would argue that our school’s changes are made based off of the day-to-day assessments that are given, rather than basing major decisions off of ISTEP+ data, which tends to come too late in the year to be very useful,” she said.
In the county’s biggest school district, Seymour Community Schools, a total of 54.8 percent of students passed English, down from 57.9 percent in 2016; 47 percent of students passed math, down from 49.5 percent in 2016 and 40.9 percent passed both, down from 42 percent.
Although the pass rates are below state average, Cortland and Emerson elementary schools showed improvement and ranked above the state.
Assistant Superintendent Lisa Ferguson said the district doesn’t rely on just one test and tailors educational opportunities throughout the year to meet every child’s individual needs.
Scores on ISTEP+ vary greatly year to year due to the fact the test is always changing, and that’s why it’s not fair to judge school districts on their scores, she said.
“This is not the same test year to year and the rigor of the test increases year to year,” she said. “Some individuals characterize any type of drop as a reflection on student achievement. I do not. Our students and staff are working and performing at high levels just as they always have in the past.
“Each year’s results are based on a different group of students, different questions and different testing formats than the year before,” she added. “This assessment environment makes it impossible to make any reliable predictions or comparisons based on one assessment.”
Teachers make the greatest impact on a student’s academic performance, so at all grade levels, professional development for staff is a priority, Ferguson added.
“We believe we are more than a set of results or a letter grade,” she said. “We hold ourselves accountable to educate all children and will do what it takes to be better today than we were yesterday.”
Crothersville Community School Corp. experienced lower pass rates across the board, but still remained above state average in math and in the percentage of students passing both English/language arts and math on the test.
Of area parochial schools, Immanuel Lutheran School and Sandy Creek Christian Academy, formerly Seymour Christian Academy, improved their scores across the board.
Although they were small gains, the data shows more students are meeting the state’s more rigorous academic standards.
St. John’s Lutheran School at Sauers also had gains in math, increasing from 55.7 percent passing a year ago to 63.8 percent passing in 2017, but fell in English/language arts from 47.5 percent passing in 2016 to 36.2 percent this year and in the percentage of students passing both, which went from 41 percent to 32.8 percent.
This was St. John’s second year taking the ISTEP+ since becoming state accredited.
Students will take the ISTEP+ again in spring 2018 as the state works to transition to a new assessment, the ILEARN exam for the 2018-19 school year. ILEARN will assess the same academic standards as ISTEP+, but will use computer adaptive testing to better inform educators about students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Absher said she doesn’t think the new test will be any better than the old one.
“Promises to give teachers and students a test that would be more formative in nature were not seen to fruition and once again, many teachers across the state will feel pressure to teach to a test that we still do not have many answers on,” she said.
Recruitment of educators to contribute to the development of the ILEARN assessment begins this month.
“I just hope they get the new test right,” Walker said. “It is troubling to me that the overall state average pass rates are so low. For example, the state average pass rate for Grade 10 math is 34 percent. That tells me something is wrong with the test. We are only at 44 percent passing, but that is 10 percent above the state average.”