Even though the state’s ISTEP+ test is about to be scrapped, some local superintendents are concerned that Indiana school corporations won’t be held harmless from school letter grades or teacher pay increases linked to the test results.

Shawn Price, who heads Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., was one of 30 superintendents who attended Wednesday’s state Board of Education meeting asking that school corporations be held harmless for a second straight year from results.

It was a request Price, Jim Roberts of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and other school superintendents in southeastern Indiana had made in an earlier letter to the board. However, Price said he came away from Wednesday’s meeting believing the state will assign letter grades to schools. That’s despite plans underway to replace ISTEP+ with a new assessment tool.

 

The superintendents have given education leaders a list of reasons ISTEP+ scores might not be an accurate gauge of student performance:

Changes to ISTEP+ employed more rigorous standards in 2015.

Testing changed from paper-and-pencil to computer.

Technical glitches occurred in the computerized testing.

A new vendor was added for 2016.

A bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence in January prohibited 2015 scores from unfavorably affecting a teacher’s evaluation, pay or bonuses as well as each school’s A through F Accountability grade, but the 2016 scores will count unless state legislators intervene again.

Most local school ISTEP scores dipped slightly this year from 2015 results, following statewide trends. The 2016 test was the second year that the test contained more rigorous standards and the Indiana Department of Education is using the 2015 scores as a baseline.

Statewide, 66.1 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 passed the English portion of the test, a 1.2 percentage point decrease from the year before, the results show. In the math section, 58.9 percent passed, down 2.1 percentage points. Overall, 51.6 students statewide passed both sections, a drop of 1.9 percentage points from last year.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. scores showed 56.7 percent of students passed both the English and math test sections this past spring, compared to 57.2 percent in 2015.

Only slight differences were reported on the individual tests, with 69.5 percent of students passing the English portion, compared to 68.4 percent in 2015. On the math section, 64.2 percent of students passed this year, compared to 64.9 percent in 2015.

Roberts said the 2016 results show the school corporation overall is performing well, particularly when compared to the state’s overall numbers. Even though the percentages are down for some schools, he said improvement is being shown in those buildings.

“ISTEP is important. We want to perform as well as possible,” Roberts said.

But he also said the state is in a period of transition from ISTEP and Thursday’s numbers are a single piece of data, and only one measurement of performance. The school corporation uses many other factors to track achievement.

Describing the latest version of ISTEP as something that was rushed into being, Roberts said there were also issues in administration of the testing and the vendor changes.

“I don’t have a guess as to what might happen,” he said of whether school districts will again be held harmless.

At Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., 51.4 percent of students passed both sections, compared to 49.6 percent in 2015.

Hope Elementary increased its percentage of students passing both math and English from 47.5 percent to 56.6 percent. However, Hauser Junior-Senior High School had a 39.3 percent passing rate for both sections in 2016, compared to 54 percent the year before.

Price said the scores released Thursday are in line with what the school corporation had predicted from its own calculations.

He cautioned that parents and community members should be careful in considering these scores, since the school corporation doesn’t see them as a valid picture of achievement.

“We don’t think that ISTEP in general is an accurate barometer,” he said. “We just pull out what we can from the numbers.”

That being said, Price said Hope Elementary’s gains are indicative of the hard work done by the school’s principal and staff.

Overall, Price said the school corporation is pleased with the results. Based on other testing and statistics the school corporation uses, the Hauser scores, albeit lower, should not be a cause for concern, he said.

With introduction of the new test in 2015, and only those numbers to compare with this set of 2016 results, “it’s like hitting a moving target,” Price said.

Among private schools, Columbus Christian showed a significant increase in its percentage passing numbers, with 49.5 percent of students passing both sections, compared to 37.2 percent in 2015.

School administrator Kendall Wildey attributed the school’s improving scores to the staff coming together to take a more focused look at the approach to teaching state standards.

In past years, the school had not put a huge emphasis on the test, but when test scores dropped in previous years, school officials decided they “would have to play the game,” Wildey said.

Columbus Christian instituted an eight-step Continuous Improvement Plan and hired a consultant, Peggy Hinckley, a former Indiana Superintendent of the Year, to work with the staff. Hinckley began working with the staff in January 2015 and Wildey said the 2016 scores are more of a reflection of her influence.

“I think she just helped us focus on effective teaching to the standards,” he said of Hinckley’s input. “It made our work more intentional.”

Shelby Mullis, reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, contributed to this story.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.