By Jordan Richart and January Rutherford
Results of last spring’s new statewide standardized test are in, and there isn’t much for local school officials to praise.
Fewer than half of Jackson County students in grades 3 through 8 tested proficient in English/language arts or math on the ILEARN test, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
The results, released Wednesday, show 42.3% of students in the county passed English/language arts, 42.9% passed math and just 31.9% passed both. Those figures are below state averages of 47.9% in English/language arts, 47.8% proficiency in math and 37.1% in both.
Area superintendents and principals aren’t surprised by the low scores, and some even predicted them.
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The test, which has been a point of controversy among lawmakers and educators, replaced the ISTEP+ exam in the spring of 2018.
The Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network is a computer-adaptive test, meaning how a student answers one question can impact the next question. It is designed to measure student achievement and growth, according to Indiana Academic Standards.
Seymour Community School Corp. as a whole had 39.3% of students pass English/language arts, 39.7% pass math and 29.4% pass both.
Cortland Elementary had the highest percentage of proficiency with 62.7% passing English/language arts, 71.2% passing math and 57.6% passing both. Margaret R. Brown had the lowest rates with 23.7% passing English/language arts, 34.7% passing math and 19.5% passing both.
Lisa Ferguson, assistant superintendent for Seymour Community School Corp., said the scores are not a reflection of the efforts of the students or teachers.
“The questions need to be directed to those at the state who are ordering unfunded mandates, who are changing the test every year and not providing the transitioning, training and substantiation that this test is even telling us anything,” she said.
Instead, the state and public should be asking whether students are learning more now than they used to and if schools are providing academic and social supports for their students to meet their individual needs.
“It looks like we have lost ground if you look at these results, but that’s not the case,” she said. “We’re not meeting the same bar every year because they are making it harder every year.”
Ferguson said she doesn’t put a lot of stock in the results of one test, especially a new test.
“It’s a failed system. Labeling any school based on one day, one test, one set of circumstances doesn’t work. We need to ask them what they are accountable for,” she said of state lawmakers.
Instead, the results can and will be used as a tool, along with all of the other formative assessments that teachers use daily and weekly.
“We use everything at our disposal, and what we can glean from this, we will,” she said. “But we aren’t going to dwell on it. We’re going to continue our course of using the measures we have in place, our tools and our people to meet our needs.”
Doug McClure, principal of Brownstown Central Middle School said he has been curious about the results even though the state had warned administrators the scores were lower than ISTEP+.
BCMS had 46.2% pass English/language arts, 40.9% pass math and 33.3% pass both.
“Given that ILEARN is an entirely new test, completely online and adaptive in design, I was curious to see how the proficiency and growth results would be affected,” he said. “The teaching of the Indiana Academic Standards remains our unchanged focus, but with the ILEARN assessment, we are now assessing and measuring the proficiency and growth of our students differently.”
McClure said the school will use the results to improve by looking at areas in which students did not perform as strongly as expected and then provide reinforcement and remediation in those skills.
“We are in the process of determining what adjustments need to be made with our instruction and assessment preparation,” he said. “As a school official, I am equally interested in our student growth as with our student proficiency.”
The hope and expectation for the ILEARN was that it would be a shorter test than the ISTEP. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, he said.
Student test fatigue and frustration could have played a factor in scores, but that’s difficult to determine, he added.
At Brownstown Elementary School, 45.3% passed English/language arts, 55.9% passed math and 39.8% passed both.
Principal Chrystal Street said at first, she was quite surprised the scores were so low. But after taking a second look, she was pleased that the school’s scores were above state average in almost every grade and subject.
“We are going to continue to work on raising our passing percentages and focusing on individual student growth,” she said.
Right now, writing is an area the school is looking to improve, she said.
“We are going to continue what we have been doing with our kids — citing evidence, multiple-step word problems, writing and testing stamina,” Street said.
Because of the new test, educators didn’t know what material it would cover and therefore were not able to prepare students, said Terry Goodin, superintendent of Crothersville Community School Corp.
“That’s like watching the ‘Avenger’ movie and then being asked to write a summary on ‘Aladdin,'” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Crothersville Elementary had 42.5% of students test proficient in English/language arts, 36.8% in math and 25.3% in both. At Crothersville Junior-Senior High School, 30.4% passed English/language arts, 24.6% passed math and 15.9% passed both.
The process is frustrating, Goodin said, because students receive a disjointed message when they see the results of a test for which they weren’t prepared.
Goodin, who also serves as the District 66 state representative, said as a member of the Indiana General Assembly, he would prefer the Indiana Department of Education and State Board of Education take over testing.
“I don’t think we’d be having these problems we’re having now if we just let the professionals do their jobs,” he said.
A better approach would be to put money the state spends on the test into classrooms and into nationally recognized tests, he added.
Crothersville schools will continue to follow the same approach it has by breaking results down to individualized students.
Based on those indicators, teachers and administrators will be able to strengthen curriculum to the students’ strengths and weaknesses, Goodin said.
The ILEARN results will complicate that process, however, he said.
“It will be limited on what we can do with it this year, but we will figure out ways to do it,” he said. “If things are kept consistent and things move forward, then maybe next year, we can start to pay attention to the results.”
Although some critics have called the ILEARN a disaster, McClure said that’s not the right comparison.
“A disaster is what recently happened in the Bahamas (with Hurricane Dorian),” he said. “No one really enjoys the experience of change, and ILEARN is certainly that. It feels at times that the goal posts are constantly moving as to what schools are tasked to do and how they are measured in that effort. That can be a source of frustration.”
The ILEARN results prompted Gov. Eric Holcomb to request lawmakers not allow the test to impact teacher evaluations and school accountability grades for the 2018-19 school year.
That request was approved by the Indiana State Board of Education on Wednesday.
“This action will ease the transition to ILEARN,” Holcomb said. “I appreciate the dedicated work of Hoosier educators. Bringing consistency and continuity to how we measure student progress and preparing students for postsecondary success is a shared and important goal.”
Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement that she supports Holcomb’s proposal of not letting the results impact evaluations and school scores.
She said the legislature also should pause intervention timelines for all schools, provide the State Board of Education with emergency rule-making authority to review and reestablish the state accountability system.
“The success and well-being of our students, educators and schools are dependent upon these actions,” she said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”By the numbers” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Jackson County ILEARN scores
School;English/language arts;Math;ELA and math;Science;Social studies
Brownstown Central Community School Corp.
Brownstown Central Middle;46.2;40.9;33.3;44;x
Crothersville Community School Corp.
Crothersville Junior-Senior High;30.4;24.6;15.9;41.7;x
Medora Community School Corp.
Medora Junior-Senior High;34.5;24.1;20.7;x;x
Seymour Community School Corp.
Margaret R. Brown Elementary;23.7;34.7;19.5;19.8;22.9
St. John’s Sauers;41.7;56.7;33.3;37.5;*
Sandy Creek Christian Academy;58.5;41.5;34;52.9;*
St. Ambrose Catholic;55;52.5;40;79.2;47.4
*Indicates fewer than 10 students tested.