April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Principals: Flawed ISTEP may still have some value

By By Paul [email protected]

Principals in the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. have something nice to say about educators' favorite whipping post, the ISTEP+ standardized test.

As a tool for school-to-school comparisons, it may actually have some value.

The Indiana Department of Education touched off a predictable avalanche of criticism last week when it released 2015 testing data that showed significant and nearly across-the-board dips in ISTEP+ scores among the state's many public and private schools.

Even the department itself put out a same-day statement that the scores, based on Indiana's new, more rigorous college- and career-ready standards first taught in the 2014-15 school year, are not comparable to previous years' scores. The 2015 ISTEP+ results instead establish a new baseline for student progress, the state agency said, reflecting a move toward higher level thinking skills.

Consistent with results in other school districts, the local system saw its overall pass rate on the English/Language Arts portion drop from 79 percent in 2014 to 62 percent in 2015, the pass rate on the Math portion drop from 87 percent to 62 percent, and its pass rate for both sections drop from 74 percent to 50 percent. The pass rate for science dropped from 81 percent to 68 percent.

Shawn Price, the FRHC superintendent, blasted the scores for their implication that teachers aren't teaching well and that students aren't learning well. He also criticized the fact that the scores were released nearly a year after students actually began taking the test, leaving zero time for curriculum changes and inner tweaks that the ISTEP+ exam was designed to spur in state schools.

Hauser Jr./Sr. High School Principal J.P. Mayer and Hope Elementary School Principal Jessica Poe don't disagree with that assessment. But both said that even flawed numbers give helpful information when every school and school district is at the same disadvantage.

Mayer pointed out that only 34 schools in the state outscored Hauser in eighth-grade math, putting Hauser in the top 11 percent in that category.

Poe made a point to use the ISTEP+ results, as flawed as they are, for a side-by-side comparison with the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She said the comparison shows Hope Elementary School is comparable with its neighbor in several grade levels. For example, both had just short of a 72-percent passing rate in third-grade English/Language Arts, while Flat Rock-Hawcreek edged out Bartholomew Consolidated with a passing rate of about 70 percent (compared to 68 percent) in third-grade Math.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek didn't make out as well at the sixth-grade level. Thirty-eight percent here passed English/Language Arts, compared to 70 percent at Bartholomew Consolidated. Thirty-three percent here passed Math, compared to 70 percent for Bartholomew Consolidated.

The statistics for sixth-graders are less favorable still. Here, only 18 percent passed both sections, compared with 60 percent for its neighbor.

"It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what the cause of the sixth-grade drop was, because I wasn't here during that time, and there has been a lot of teachers turnover as well, so I don't have a solid frame of reference," Poe said.

Both Flat Rock-Hawcreek principals said they rely on additional measuring sticks, like Acuity, to show where its students and teachers stand and in what areas they can improve.

"Our students have shown significant gains from the beginning of the year to the middle of the year," Poe said. She added that "there is always value in looking at multiple data points, including ISTEP, to evaluate best practices and determine how to better meet each individual student's needs."

Mayer said Hauser, like Hope, uses Acuity for benchmark testing, in addition to ALEKS, Achieve and teacher-made assessments, to name a few.

"We have always relied on a variety of assessments to get a true picture of our students' progress," he said.[[In-content Ad]]