School district: Ignore recent ISTEP results

Jennings County School Corp. officials are encouraging teachers, parents and students to ignore the most recent ISTEP results and instead prepare for a new and better system of evaluating a student’s progress.

The Indiana Department of Education released the results of the state mandated 2015 ISTEP+ exam last week.

The results of the school district’s six elementary schools and North Vernon Elementary showed a significant drop compared with last year’s passing rates for English and math, although the district’s overall passing rates for math (67 percent) and English (68.4 percent) exceeded the state averages.

“Taking last year’s test results seriously would be like teaching German all year then testing to see how well you learned German by giving a test in Spanish. That would not be an accurate evaluation of a student, instructor or school’s progress,” said Jeanie Koelmel, the school district’s administrative assistant for curriculum and instruction.

The 2015 ISTEP exam was written to be more difficult than the test of previous years in order to gauge how well students are prepared for college.

“We were expecting this because it was an entirely different type of testing,” Koelmel said of the lower passing rates.

A new company has taken over ISTEP testing and development. The Pearson Co. replaced CTB/McGraw-Hill as the ISTEP test vendor.

The Jennings County School Corp. also has opted for future testing by the Northwest Evaluation Assessment system, which Koelmel said will make a sizable improvement in the ability to identify deficiencies in student progress.

“With the NWEA system, our students will be tested three times a year, and we will know the results of the testing within the same time period and in time to do something about any problems,” Koelmel said.

Under the old ISTEP system, the test was given one year, and the results were not released until the following year, she said.

“What good did that do? It was too late to do anything about the problem,” Koelmel said.

In addition to the the NWEA system, the school district will take other measures to evaluate a student’s progress.

“Our school board has decided to spend the extra money to add Study Island, which should really help us to help the individual student who might be having difficulty,” Koelmel said.

Study Island, a software program to assess student learning, will cost the school corporation $10 per student. The NWEA system will cost the district $14 per student.

“The NWEA will identify when an individual student is having difficulty with a subject and send that information to Study Island. Study Island will then develop a course of study to help that student with their individual problem. This will make a difference in helping a student learn instead of just testing them,” Koelmel said.