ILEARN results: déjà vu all over again

Here we go again. Indiana has a new standardized test, the results sound bad, and educators are calling on the state to hold off on imposing consequences on schools or teachers using new test scores.

Today, Gov. Eric Holcomb joined the call for a “pause” in accountability based on the tests. House and Senate leaders concurred, which means it’s almost certain to happen. Results from the new assessment, called ILEARN, are scheduled to be made public at the Sept. 4 State Board of Education meeting.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we went through the same thing just four years ago. Then, Indiana adopted new, more stringent learning standards, and the state test, called ISTEP, was revised to incorporate them. Test scores plummeted, and lawmakers approved “hold harmless” legislation that prevented the new test from hurting schools’ letter grades.

In 2015, passing rates on ISTEP declined by 24 percentage points in math and 16 percentage points in English/language arts, a huge drop. Officials predicted the rates would rise as students and teachers adjusted to the new standards, but that hasn’t really happened. Statewide passing rates have hovered around 65% for E/LA and 60% for math; just over half of students typically pass both.

But the concern about low scores subsided when Indiana adopted a new and more lenient system of calculating school grades the following year. The result was that many schools kept getting the A’s and B’s that they were accustomed to before the new standards took effect.

This year’s ILEARN results have been released to schools, and rumors are that the passing rates have dropped to around 40%.

Holcomb said he wants to hold schools harmless for the 2019 test results, which “will ease the transition to ILEARN.” That will help for now, but test scores are not likely to improve dramatically next year. Unless Indiana either 1) adopts another a new school grading system or 2) revises the “cut scores” at which students are deemed to be proficient on the tests, school grades will worsen next year.

Maybe we will get a sense of how officials plan to manage this issue at the Sept. 4 state board meeting. But a one-year pause will just postpone the problems until 2020. And that’s an election year.

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