ISTEP numbers released, but are they meaningless?

Staff Writer

    State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz called for reforms to Indiana’s student assessment program Monday, an announcement timed to accompany the release of statewide 2015 ISTEP+ scores that have been downplayed and ridiculed by educators and lawmakers alike.
    Slightly more than half of Indiana students taking the ISTEP standardized test in the Spring of 2015 passed both the language arts and mathematics portions, a sharp drop from a year earlier that officials had predicted because of changes they say made the test more difficult.
    The results released Wednesday show 53.5 of students who took the test passed both sections in 2015, compared with 74.7 percent of students passing both sections in 2014. The state Department of Education said in a news release announcing the results that the scores are not comparable because of ‘‘more rigorous college and career ready standards.’’ Changes were made in the test after national Common Core standards were scrapped in favor of new, Indiana-written guidelines.
    North Adams Community Schools Superintendent Brent Lehman on Tuesday said, “I do not give these scores much validity, because of all the issues that have been well documented. That being said, it is the new state test we will just take these results as a new baseline and grow the scores again.”
    Lehman said North Adams uses the NWEA assessment “and that assessment gives us timely results. We use that data to impact how we prepare instruction for our students. Our teachers our doing a wonderful job educating our students. It is frustrating to have those efforts minimized by those who think the answer is to keep changing the annual assessment.”
     The 2015 ISTEP+ was the first state assessment to be based on Indiana’s new, more rigorous college and career ready standards. Because of this change, the 2015 ISTEP+ scores are not comparable to previous years’ pass rates, according to Indiana Board of Education spokespersons. Instead, for the first time they show the percentage of students meeting the new college and career ready benchmarks at each grade level. In 2015, 67.3 percent of students passed the English/Language Arts section, 61 percent passed the Mathematics section, and 53.5 passed both sections. Additionally, 69.2 percent of fourth- and sixth-grade students passed the Science section and 70.4 percent of fifth- and seventh-grade students passed the optional Social Studies section.
     In response to these results, Ritz issued the following statement:
     “After years of legislative changes at both the state and federal level, our schools were asked once again to implement new standards and subject students to a new assessment without time to transition. The 2015 ISTEP+ results have established a new baseline for Indiana’s progress towards college and career ready benchmarks, and I want to thank our students, educators and administrators for their hard work during such a challenging school year. I look forward to seeing student growth towards these new, more rigorous benchmarks moving forward.
     “My top priority is the educational, social and emotional well-being of Hoosier students. That is why I believe that is it time for Indiana to move away from the costly, lengthy, pass/fail ISTEP+ assessment. The one-size-fits-all high stakes approach of the ISTEP+ needs to end. Instead, Indiana should move towards a streamlined, individualized, student-centered assessment that provides students, families and educators with quick feedback about how a student is performing and how they have grown during a school year.
     “Moving forward, I will work with the General Assembly to oversee the development of this assessment so we can better serve each individual student’s needs.  In addition, as the Chair of the State Board of Education, I will recommend action to ensure that each school’s accountability grade is determined by meaningful measures and not just by test scores.”