Indiana State Board of Education members were skeptical when Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz warned in July that schools could expect a big drop in ISTEP+ passing rates as a result of the new standards and new tests that took effect last year. At the time, Ritz was trying to persuade board members to “pause” the state’s A-F accountability system because the tougher test was likely to result in lower grades.
“I guess I’m trying to figure out why there will be such a different result when we did not make the dramatic change in our standards that other states did,” board member Gordon Hendry said.
“I just think we’d be saying we don’t have enough faith in our teachers that they can get students where they need to be,” added board member Lee Ann Kwiatkowski.
Now the results are in and they are worse than expected. The new ISTEP+ cut scores that the state board will be asked to approve Wednesday will result in huge drops in overall passing rates – by 16 percentage points in English/language arts and 24 points in math.
We don’t yet know exactly what that means for school grades, but it’s a safe bet there will be a lot fewer A schools and lot more schools getting Fs. Ritz told board members in July that a 5 percent decrease in test-score performance would raise the number of schools getting Fs from 87 to 148. So imagine what a 16-to-24 percent decrease in performance is likely to do.
Indiana Department of Education staff explained that it’s not so much that the new standards are harder or that the test is more difficult, but that the setting of cut scores – the minimum scores required for a “pass” or “pass plus” designation — would be more rigorous.
Cut score recommendations were set by panels of educators in a process facilitated by the testing vendor, CTB McGraw-Hill, and assisted by experts. As Chalkbeat Indiana’s Shaina Cavazos explained, the process can be characterized as political, but it’s about the only option with a new test and standards.
The State Board of Education could approve the cut scores Wednesday, or it could make adjustments or ask for more information. Comments from board staff suggest members are in agreement with the process and are unlikely to make big changes. But their discussion should be interesting.
Meanwhile, Ritz’s proposal to pause accountability and give schools a year to adjust to the new testing regimen didn’t get out of the starting gate. An opinion from the state attorney general’s office said the education department and board don’t have authority to modify the way school grades work.