ISTEP lessons

At first glance, the 2012 ISTEP-Plus test results that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett released Tuesday look depressingly familiar.

At the school district level, there’s the usual correlation between poverty and low test scores. Districts with the highest percentage of students passing the exams tend to be those where poor people don’t live: West Lafayette, Carmel, Zionsville, etc. Districts with the lowest numbers passing the tests are those with most poor students: Gary, East Chicago, IPS and Hammond.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of variation within schools in the ISTEP-Plus passing rates – variation from year to year, from grade to grade, and between English/language arts and math.

Look at the results for Bloomington’s Monroe County Community School Corp., for example. In one school, the percentage of third-graders who passed both the English and math exams is well above the state average; but the percentage of fourth-graders who passed both exams is below average. In another school, significantly more fourth-graders pass the English test than the math test; but fifth-graders do much better in math than in English.

And as the Bloomington Herald-Times (subscription required) reports, several local schools improved their passing rates quite a bit from last year. Clear Creek Elementary School had some of the biggest gains in the state. Fairview Elementary had a double-digit increase in the percentage of students who passed the English/language arts exam.

All this suggests that students’ test scores aren’t immutable and that teachers and schools do have an impact – maybe not as much as family and socio-economic factors, but a significant impact nonetheless.

“Hoosiers from all walks of life should greet this news with a standing ovation,” Bennett said, referring to the improvement in scores. That may be stretching things a bit, but for students and teachers and schools that improved their numbers, yes, it’s something to celebrate.

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