Another viewpoint: New ILEARN format will allow for more personalized learning for students


Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

An estimated 1,200 Hoosier schools including those in the Fort Wayne Community and East Allen County districts will pilot a new ILEARN assessment format next school year. This adds three preparatory tests to be administered prior to the typical end-of-year exam.

Summative assessments are intended to collect data on student performance, pinpoint problem areas and spur improved educational programs. But Indiana’s low proficiency rates on standardized tests have been used by proponents of the state’s school voucher system to claim public schools are failing Hoosiers.

The new setup, which will be adopted statewide for the 2025-26 school year, moves away from that played-out game. Instead, the preparation tests are diagnostic, helping teachers and parents learn where students between grades 3 and 8 are performing academically throughout the year and could better prepare them for the spring summative exam.

Approved by the State Board of Education last summer, the three preparatory tests will contain 20 to 25 questions focusing on four to six state education standards and a shortened summative exam in the spring. The new ILEARN setup will help educators implement remediation and intervention, such as additional tutoring for students who require it, ahead of the end-of-year exam, said Education Secretary Katie Jenner.

“This is wildly popular amongst our educators, amongst our parents, because what this does is it gives not just end-of-year, one-point-in-time data, but it allows three checkpoints throughout the year on that student that are not punitive, that are totally, ‘Has the child mastered it or not?’” Jenner said earlier in the year.

The new format to ILEARN — Indiana’s Learning Evaluation and Assessment Readiness Network — is an opportunity for communication with parents that goes beyond letter grades, said Courtney Lumbley, director of curriculum, assessment and instruction at FWCS.

“This is a great data point to sit down with a parent and show at this grade level how we’re performing,” she said. “The school can take that data and respond intentionally, but we can also share with parents that this is the expectation at the end of the year, this is where your student is, and here are the standards that we’re going to continue to work on before the end-of-year benchmark test.”

Advantages to the new ILEARN don’t end with the possibility of personalized plans of action for each student.

The three preparation tests could reduce students’ test anxiety over the high-intensity spring assessment, and will make the end-of-year exam shorter and take less time to administer.

“There’s the criticism of a summative that a student has to sit down, and they’re measured on testing stamina as much as what their numeracy or literacy skills are,” Lumbley said. “The public has cried out. Educators have asked, ‘Could we have these bite-sized (tests) so that we’re measuring students’ skills in real time, but also in shorter testing increments?’ ”

The checkpoint exams also will increase students’ familiarity with the testing platform and types of questions asked.

Teachers and students have had a fraught relationship with ILEARN since it replaced ISTEP-plus in 2019. On the 2018 ISTEP, 50.7% of students passed the English/language arts and math portions of the test. Just 37.1% of students passed both portions of the 2019 ILEARN.

Last year, the combined rate for English/language arts and math on ILEARN was worse than in 2019, with 30.6% of students scoring at or above proficiency.

Under the new ILEARN format, the high-stakes assessment at the end of the school year will remain. But by adding three preparatory assessments for schools to better track the academic progress of students, Indiana has given teachers and parents a tool that could result in more personalized learning for students that hasn’t been possible since the state started standardized testing in 1987.

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