Student scores statewide on Indiana’s ISTEP+ standardized exams changed little from last year after pass rates tumbled two years ago with an overhaul of the test.

But in Bartholomew County, the percentage of students who passed both math and English declined in 12 of 13 elementary or middle schools within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and dropped 4 percentage points districtwide in grades 3 through 8 compared to a year ago.

BCSC saw 52.7 percent of students passing both subject areas this spring, slightly higher than the state average of 51.5 percent. The state average a year ago was 51.6, according to the Indiana Department of Education, which said performance remained stable across content areas in grades 3 to 8 across the state.

Technology was one factor that likely contributed to the Columbus-based district’s overall results this year, said Jim Roberts, BCSC superintendent.

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In previous years, especially when the state’s ISTEP+ testing vendor was working through technology problems, districts across Indiana including BCSC were granted waivers allowing students to take the tests using paper and pencil. Fewer waivers were granted this year, however, resulting in a vast majority of BCSC students taking the ISTEP test online, Roberts said.

Roberts said he believes BCSC scores were affected by the change.

“With paper and pencil, it’s relatively simple,” he said.

But online testing introduces potential technology challenges that students might have to work through — including navigating to different questions or tools such as an online calculator within the exam, he said.

Also, parts of last year’s tests for all Indiana students were taken using pencil and paper, which changed this year to an all-online standardized test.

“We believe it was a variable that contributed to this,” Roberts said, referring to the year-over-year online differences and the BCSC drop in scores.

Technology aside, Roberts said the district would take a close look at other potential reasons why it didn’t perform as well this year and determine how to address those issues.

Regarding benchmarks, the superintendent said BCSC tries to compare its numbers to the state average.

While BCSC pass scores for both English and math exceeded the state average by 5 percentage points in 2016, the gap this year dropped to 1.2 percentage points.

“Whatever that number is, we want to be better next time,” Roberts said.

Seeing improvement

The Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. based in Hope saw improvements on its ISTEP+ results over last year, with 54 percent of students passing math and English, up from the 51.4 percent passage rate in 2016. In 2015, the district saw 49.6 percent of students pass both subject areas.

Superintendent Shawn Price said he was pleased with his district’s overall improvement in ISTEP, especially at Hope Elementary School, which saw 61.3 percent of students pass math and English. That reflects an increase from the 56.6 percent level in 2016 and the 47.5 percent passage rate in 2015.

Hauser Junior-Senior High School also saw a slight bump in the percentage of students passing both subject areas over the prior year. Price cited the district’s individualized approach with students as one reason for improvement in scores.

However, Price expressed concern as the state transitions toward ILEARN after next year, focusing on the same academic standards as ISTEP but leveraging computer adaptive testing to better inform educators about students’ strengths and weaknesses. Price said his main concern centers around how that test will focus on accountability for teachers and students, in addition to how the new test will be assessed.

“We have to be cautious as we look to change tests again,” Price said.

Private school overview

Four private schools in Columbus also fared considerably higher than the state average, with at least one school experiencing an increase in student scores for the third straight year. Columbus Christian School had 61.5 percent of students pass math and English compared to 49.5 percent the previous year.

Kendall Wildey, administrator at Columbus Christian, said he was pleased with the results and credited the dedication of teachers at the school. He also pointed to the school’s continuous improvement process with professional development opportunities for teachers while being involved in enrichment activities with students as well.

“It allowed our teachers to be more intentional about what they were teaching,” Wildey said.

Still, he said the school doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on the tests themselves.

“We want to do everything we can to design lessons to engage students in their work,” Wildey said. “If they’re engaged, the tests will take care of themselves.”

Wildey said the school doesn’t do a lot of preparation for ISTEP+, which is beneficial to students, he said.

“That’s by design; we don’t want that pressure,” he said.

While he said he’s pleased with the results, Wildey said there’s more work ahead to get better.

“Are we there yet where we want to be? No,” he said. “We want 100 percent of our kids passing, so we’ll keep striving for that.”

Other private schools in the area saw mixed results compared to a year ago.

  • St. Bartholomew Catholic School had 79.4 percent of students passing math and English this spring, the highest pass rates in Bartholomew County, although that was a slight decrease over the passage rate of 79.8 percent the prior year.
  • St. Peter’s Lutheran School also saw a decrease in the total number of students passing both subject areas with 62 percent, down about 3 percentage points from 2016. In 2015, the school had 69.9 percent of its students pass math and English
  • White Creek Lutheran School had 61.7 percent of its students pass both subject areas, a drop from the 64 percent level it saw in 2016.

Final ISTEP exam coming in spring

The final ISTEP+ exam will be coming in the spring, to be replaced by a new test known as ILEARN. The new exam focuses on the same academic standards with students in grades 3-8 assessed in English and math.

Science will be assessed in grades 4 and 6, while social studies will be assessed in grade 5. In addition, end-of-course assessments will be offered in Algebra I, English 10 and Biology I following completion of the defined course.

Source: Indiana Department of Education

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com