Pence’s 180-degree turn

Today is the day when dramatically lower ISTEP+ test scores could become a reality. Maybe that helps explain Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s surprising about-face on whether to pause accountability for schools and teachers based on spring 2015 test results.

As Shaina Cavazos with Chalkbeat Indiana documents, Pence had refused to consider a pause for over a year, even though Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz suggested the idea several times. In February, the Pence-appointed State Board of Education wouldn’t even discuss the topic.

U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan invited states to request a break from test-based school grades and teacher ratings when they shifted to new standards with tougher assessments. Many states jumped at the idea, but Pence and Indiana Republican legislative leaders insisted it wasn’t on the table. Continue reading

Big changes likely in Indiana school grades

Over half of all Indiana schools could get Ds or Fs from the state next year if the State Board of Education approves recommended cut scores for the 2015 ISTEP+ exams.

That’s according to data provided by the Indiana State Department of Education, which charted the likely distribution of school grades if fewer students pass the exams.

Daniel Altman, spokesman for the department, cautioned that the figures aren’t exact but represent best estimates compiled by staff from the data that were available. But even if they are close, the grading changes are bound to get attention.

Under cut scores that go to the State Board of Education for approval Wednesday, it’s expected that the overall passing rate on ISTEP+ exams will drop by 16 percent in English/language arts and by 24 percent in mathematics. That’s mostly the result of more rigorous expectations for passing.

In 2014, over half of Indiana schools were awarded As in the state’s accountability system and only 12.8 percent got Ds and Fs. Those figures will flip this year if the DOE estimates are accurate.

  • With a 15 percent drop in performance, one-third of schools would get As or Bs and 40 percent would get Ds or Fs.
  • With a 20 percent drop in performance, 19.5 percent of schools would get As or Bs and 55 percent would get Ds or Fs.
  • With a 25 percent drop in performance, barely 10 percent of schools would get As or Bs and two-thirds would get Ds or Fs.

The chart below details how many and what percentage of schools could expect each letter grade with hypothetical drops in ISTEP+ passing rates of 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent, the approximate range we’re expecting. Again, these are estimates.

DOE-chart---2

Source: Indiana Department of Education

Over time, we can expect scores to improve as schools and teachers adapt to the standards and the new tests. Also, a new grade calculation formula will take effect in 2016; it’s supposed to put more weight on student academic growth and not as much on test scores.

But for this year, don’t be surprised to hear about an alarming number of “failing” schools.

Decision on test results state board’s hands

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. Continue reading

Indiana steps into testing privacy mess

Regarding Indiana’s selection of British-owned testing giant Pearson to develop and run the ISTEP+ exam: The timing wasn’t the best, was it?

Last week the Indiana Department of Administration chose Pearson as the contractor for ISTEP+ math and English tests. The two-year contract is worth $38.1 million.

Two days later, a New Jersey blogger reported that Pearson was monitoring social media use by students taking tests it created for the PARCC consortium of states.

A test-security contractor said a girl in New Jersey had posted confidential test information on Twitter. Pearson apparently tracked down who she was and told the state education department, which informed local school officials.

The local superintendent vented about the overreach in what she thought was a private email. But it found its way to the inbox of blogger Bob Braun, who broke the story of Pearson snooping on students.

Pearson insisted the monitoring was necessary for test validity, but a lot of people weren’t buying it. Continue reading

Indiana isn’t the only state facing more testing

What if Indiana hadn’t dumped Common Core and fled the PARCC consortium? Would we still be having this brouhaha over how long our students are sitting for standardized tests? Yeah, probably.

Many of us were taken aback when we learned last week that the time it takes to complete the ISTEP+ exam has more than doubled since last year. But longer tests seem to go hand-in-hand with the more rigorous “college and career ready” standards that Indiana and other states are adopting.

Anne Hyslop, who follows testing and accountability issues as a senior policy analyst with Bellwether Education Partners, believes tests are getting longer because they include performance tasks and writing sections that attempt to better reflect whether students are learning the standards.

“In other words, if you want a high-quality test, you need high-quality items, and those may take longer to complete than a multiple choice question,” she said.

Back when Indiana had adopted Common Core and its teachers were preparing to implement the standards, it was part of PARCC, a consortium of states developing Common Core-aligned tests. And the PARCC exams that will be given this spring aren’t much shorter than the new Indiana ISTEP+.

Testing-Time

When the word came out that ISTEP+ was more than doubling in length, some parents and teachers were outraged. A pediatrician told the State Board of Education last week that forcing young children to sit for such lengthy tests amounted to child abuse. Continue reading

‘Achievement gap’ discussion should have local focus

Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington is hosting community conversations this Friday and Sunday on “Closing the Achievement Gap.” The topic hits close to home.

We typically think of the achievement gap as a national phenomenon – as the gap between test scores for white and minority students. Or the gap between scores for high-performing and “failing” schools.

But thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, individual schools and school districts report test results for “disaggregated groups” of students: those from racial and ethnic categories, students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, special-needs kids and English language learners.

And those results raise questions for the Monroe County Community School Corp. in Bloomington. It had some of the lowest test-passing rates in Indiana this year for students from low-income families and for minority students. And it had some of the biggest test-score achievement gaps in the state.

I’ve lived in Bloomington most of my adult life, and I can’t think of a good reason why this should be the case. We know that poor kids are less likely to pass standardized tests than middle-class or affluent kids. But is poverty in Bloomington different from poverty in other Indiana cites?

Continue reading

Examining data for Indiana’s ‘disaggregated groups’

Here’s a question that arguably deserves more attention from education researchers and policy types: Why are some schools better than others at getting students from low-income families to pass tests?

We hear a lot about high-poverty schools that produce better test scores than you’d expect. We pay a lot of attention to no-excuses charter schools and public schools that focus relentlessly on data. But poor kids are scattered throughout all kinds of schools and school districts, urban, rural and suburban. And judging by test scores, some districts do a better job of helping them learn than others.

The Indiana Department of Education recently posted district-by-district and school-by-school passing rates on the ISTEP+ exam for “disaggregated groups” of students: minorities, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, English language learners and special-needs students.

The data are a carry-over from the No Child Left Behind Act, which required schools to hit targets for the percentage of students in each group who passed standardized tests.

The results vary from school to school – a lot. Looking at students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, for example, the proportion who passed both the math and English ISTEP+ exams in 2014 ranged from 85.9 percent to 45.2 percent. The state average was 62.3 percent.

Some of the districts with the lowest passing rates for free-and-reduced lunch students are high-poverty urban districts. But some aren’t. Some of the districts with the highest passing rates are low-poverty schools with relatively few poor students. But some aren’t. It’s a mix, with no obvious pattern. Continue reading

Thoughts on the Flanner House cheating allegations

If cheating at Indianapolis Flanner House Elementary School was as bad as reports suggest, the question you have to ask is: Why? Why would a teacher, or teachers, bend the rules to boost their students ISTEP+ scores when they were likely to get caught?

Were they under that much pressure to raise test scores? Were they worried the school might be shut down? Did they think their students were at an unfair disadvantage in a rigged testing game?

We don’t know for sure what happened at Flanner House. Reports by the Indiana Department of Education and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s charter-school office suggest there was cheating in 2013 and 2014. But officials at the school pushed back against the allegations.

“I don’t believe there was massive cheating for Grades 3 to 6 here,” school board president Patricia Roe told parents last week, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Flanner House is a charter school where over 90 percent of students qualify for free school lunches and nearly all are African-American. It shocked school-watchers in spring 2013 by recording some of the highest ISTEP+ passing rates in the state, after a fairly mediocre performance in previous years.

That apparently sparked an investigation, and the state education department reported last week that students’ test sheets included an unusually high number of wrong-to-right answer changes, suggesting someone was guiding them. Some test booklets, the state said, had answers in more than one handwriting, including sections that appeared to be written by an adult. Continue reading

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.