Indiana students will start taking new ILEARN assessments Monday. Is ILEARN really something new, not just ISTEP with a different name and more bells and whistles? State officials insist it is.
“One of our key messages is literally that: This is not designed to be ISTEP 2.0,” said Charity Flores, director of assessment for the Indiana Department of Education.
The biggest difference, Flores said, is that ILEARN math and English/language arts assessments for grades 3-8 will be computer-adaptive. Students will take the tests online, and algorithms will guide the questions they see. The questions will change in difficulty depending on how the previous question was answered. The goal is a more precise, focused evaluation of students’ skills.
There’s nothing more snooze-inducing than the adoption of state administrative rules. It features technical language, choreographed hearings, public comment periods, legalistic processes – and a sneaking suspicion that the people making the rules have already decided what will happen.
But rules can be important: case in point, the new school accountability rule that the Indiana State Board of Education is in the process of approving. It will set criteria for awarding A-to-F school grades and ultimately have a big influence on the reputations of schools and communities.
So it’s good that some of the people who will be most affected by the rule – teachers, school administrators and school board representatives – have been making clear what they think is wrong with the proposal the board is considering:
- They say a plan to put less emphasis on test-score growth and more on test-score performance will handicap high-poverty schools and provide an inaccurate picture of school effectiveness. The board’s proposal would cap math and language-arts growth points for elementary and middle schools and eliminate growth as a factor in high-school grades.
- They worry that adding accountability for science and social studies could lead to more emphasis on testing and test prep if it isn’t handled properly.
- They question details of the state’s move to a national college-admission exam, like the SAT or ACT, to measure of high-school performance. One official pointed out that students who aren’t college-bound may not take the test seriously, but schools will be judged on their scores.
- They ask how the accountability rule, including the requirement of SAT or ACT exams, will mesh with new high-school graduation pathways requirements that the board has adopted.
Parents and the public favor racially and socioeconomically diverse schools, and they don’t put much stock in using standardized tests to measure school quality. At least that’s what they told the pollsters who conducted the 49th annual Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools.
But if that’s the case, why do so many affluent parents get up in arms over proposals to desegregate their neighborhood schools. Why do we accept the idea that property values are higher where schools are whiter and test scores are better?
Are the poll respondents just giving answers that make them sound reasonable? Or do a majority really embrace values of tolerance and diversity. As always, the poll provides a lot of information but leaves plenty of questions for us to debate.
Results of the PDK poll were released this week. On diversity, it found that 70 percent of parents say they would prefer for their child to attend a racially diverse school, and 61 percent prefer an economically mixed school. A majority of the public said racial and economic diversity is good for schools.
A session of the Indiana General Assembly is kind of like a tornado. When it’s over, you crawl out of your shelter, look around and assess the damage.
Lawmakers finished their business and left the Statehouse on Saturday morning. Here’s a quick look at some of the wreckage they left on the education front.
The most important thing the legislature does for education is to allocate funding for schools. Education funding is the lion’s share of the state budget, but you can’t say lawmakers were very generous.
On average, per-pupil funding will increase by only 1.1 percent in 2017-18 and 1.3 percent in 2018-19. That’s not good enough. School funding in Indiana has never caught up to what it was before the Great Recession, and private school vouchers account for an ever-growing slice of the school funding pie.
The funding formula continues a recent trend of directing bigger funding increases to growing suburban schools and less money to urban and rural schools. Funding is down a lot for the complexity index, the part of the formula that boosts support for schools serving more poor children.
Lawmakers delivered on a priority for Gov. Eric Holcomb: making superintendent of public instruction an appointed rather than an elected position. In a compromise between the House and Senate, the new system won’t take effect until 2025 and the appointed superintendent must be an Indiana resident.
State legislators suggest they’re shocked – shocked! – to learn the $40 million Teacher Performant Grant program they created is mostly rewarding teachers who work in wealthy school districts.
“The original concept was to recognize outstanding teachers, not just outstanding districts,” House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, told the Indianapolis Star. “When we drafted it we didn’t think the gap would be as large,” Sen. Ryan Mishler, R- Bremen, who helped create the program, told WFYI News.
Really? Because it was entirely predictable that this would happen.
Gov. Mike Pence proposed the program, and legislators approved the formula that spells out how the grants are distributed. The primary way that schools qualify for the grants is if at least 75 percent of their students pass the state’s ISTEP exams. If at least 90 percent of students pass, they get larger grants. If schools qualify, they get money for each student who passes a test.
We’ve known for a long time that passing rates on standardized tests are much higher in affluent schools than in schools that serve lots of poor students. For high-poverty Indiana schools, a 75 percent passing rate is something to dream about – especially since ISTEP got a lot tougher in 2014-15.
Schools can also qualify on the basis of graduation rates or year-to-year improvement in ISTEP passing rates. Using improvement is supposed to help equalize funding, but it doesn’t have much effect. Continue reading
It’s one thing for Indiana officials to say they’re getting rid of the hated ISTEP exam. It’s quite another to figure out what to do next. That’s the dilemma that’s playing out as a 23-member state panel tries to craft recommendations on the future of standardized testing.
“The task is a significant one,” said Ed Roeber, a Michigan testing expert and a member of the technical advisory committee that the State Board of Education appointed to advise the ISTEP replacement panel.
But the plain truth is, Indiana is likely to have an end-of-year state test for accountability well beyond July 2017, when the law says ISTEP is supposed to expire. The test may have a new name and it may be created by a new vendor. But annual testing isn’t going away.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, Roeber said in a telephone interview – as long as the test is properly designed and implemented, and it is part of a balanced system of assessment.
“I personally didn’t think ISTEP needed to be dropped,” he said. “I thought it could be done a whole lot better.”
The task before the ISTEP replacement panel, meanwhile, is complicated by politics. Lawmakers took credit this year for repealing ISTEP, and Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the measure to great fanfare. Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has long called for moving away from high-stakes standardized tests.
Indiana schools have finally received their preliminary 2015 ISTEP test results, and school officials aren’t happy. Superintendents, especially, are pushing back hard.
In media stories and statements to the public, they have called aspects of this year’s tests “not fair,” “a complete fiasco” and “almost unfathomable.” The setting of grades, they said, was arbitrary and invalid.
On the one hand, good for them. On the other, where were they when test scores and a similarly arbitrary process were being used to label other people’s schools as failing?
Were they pushing back against a state accountability system that was stacked against high-poverty schools? Or were administrators and school board members content with a system that delivered high grades and let them boast of running an A school corporation.
Yes, this year’s ISTEP exams were more difficult and stressful than in the past, with a new set of state standards and new tests to measure what students were learning. But the real issue seems to be the passing scores that the State Board of Education approved last month.
Under the new cut scores, the number of students who pass the tests is expected to drop by 20-25 percentage points. Lower tests scores will result in lower school grades. Continue reading