It’s been said that Indiana’s ISTEP testing program is a train wreck. It’s also something like a car crash that you pass on the highway. You know you shouldn’t stare, but you can’t avert your eyes.
Scores from the spring 2017 tests were released Wednesday, and newspapers and digital news sites have already posted stories about how local and state schools fared. Admit it – we’re going to read them, even though we know in advance which schools will do well and which schools won’t.
I’ll leave the scorekeeping and analysis to others, but here are a few observations:
- These tests are just hard. Statewide, barely half of students in grades 3-8 passed both the math and English/language arts sections. That’s about the same percentage as in the previous two years. In 2014, before the tests got tougher, three-fourths of students passed both sections.
- Average scores and passing rates won’t tell us much, but there may be stories hidden within the numbers. For example, in one high-poverty school, the passing rate for sixth-graders is nearly three times the rate for third-graders. Does that mean students are improving from grade to grade? ISTEP growth results, when they come, could help fill in the picture.
- The so-called achievement gap remains depressingly large. Passing rates were 58 percent for white students, 38 percent for Hispanic students and 25 percent for black students. The differences no doubt reflect socioeconomic gaps: Passing rates were 36 percent for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 66 percent for those who don’t.
And there I’ll stop. For anyone who likes to play with numbers, there’s a danger of giving test scores more legitimacy than they deserve. Some would argue we shouldn’t pay them any mind at all. I won’t go that far, but I will say this: Take what you read about ISTEP scores – including what you read here – with a whole shaker of salt.