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Districts pleased with solid results, cite changes as key

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Positive. Growth. Encouraging.

Those are a few of the words local educators have used to describe this year’s ISTEP+ results, which were released today.

Nearly every school in Bartholomew County posted improved scores on the standardized test taken last spring in both math and English. The percentage of students passing both portions of the ISTEP+ also increased in Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek school corporations.

Several schools increased math or English skills by more than 10 points, with the biggest gain of 16.2 points in English at Clifty Creek Elementary School.

The area’s private schools had mixed results, with two posting increases across the board and two declining in all areas.

While leaders in both districts recognized there’s room for improvement, they were happy with the results.

Kathy Griffey, superintendent of Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., said she is always cautious about test scores, but she was pleased.

“They showed good, solid work by teachers and kids and we felt like they emphasized how we had made some changes,” she said. “They were probably the right changes.”

BCSC Superintendent John Quick also credited the “three-legged stool” and said the scores are improving because of students, schools and parents.

“Our product is learning,” he said. “Is that product getting better? There’s evidence that it is.”

Digging into data

Educators emphasize a year-over-year comparison only tells a fragment of the story.

The numbers don’t consider socioeconomic factors, for one. Bill Jensen, director of secondary education for BCSC, said he can still match test scores to ZIP codes. High scores still come out of areas with high family income and level of parents’ education — and the reverse is true.

Only 35 percent of students in BCSC were signed up for lunch assistance in 2009, compared with 43 percent last year. Yet in that same time, the percentage of students passing ISTEP+ increased by 20 percent in math and

14 percent in English.

“What’s remarkable is the challenges facing our students are increasing, but at the same time, performance trends are going up,” Jensen said.

Director of Elementary Education Teresa Heiny pointed out another problem with year-over-year comparisons.

“They are not the same students,” she said.

Instead, she referred to a chart following each cohort — or class of students — through the years. Almost every class performed better this year than in the previous years, with some making gains of more than 10 points over several years.

But there are some takeaways from the year-to-year snapshot.

Mt. Healthy Elementary posted the highest scores in Columbus, and scores increased by more than 10 points in each category.

“It’s a smaller school, and that makes it one of our best cultures of ownership,” Quick said.

Generations of families have attended the school, and fewer students move in and out of the district.

It’s the opposite at Parkside Elementary, which Quick said was once considered the most affluent school in the district.

Now there’s more mobility, more students on lunch assistance and more English language learners, he said. The scores are reflecting that, with a drop of about one point in each category.

Hope Elementary, which was designated as a priority school by the state Department of Education for low scores the past three years, posted a 5-point gain in math and 12-point gain in English.

At Columbus Christian School, scores dropped about 10 points in English and one point in math. The percentage of students who passed both the English and math portion dropped more than 20 points.

White Creek Lutheran School also saw scores drop by up to 16 points.

Both of those schools have fewer than 200 students enrolled, which means large fluctuations in scores can be caused by a small number of students.

No letter grades yet

The state has not announced when it will release school grades, which the state claims give a better picture of how well schools are performing.

Although the numbers released today contribute

to the grade calculation, there is more to it than that. Grades also consider peer comparisons, growth and high school graduation rates, among other factors.

“Calculation is a mystery, which is a problem,” Griffey said.

There’s no way to tell whether schools will receive good grades — only hunches. And that’s especially important with Clifty Creek and Hope, which both have additional pressure from the state to improve their grades because of recent low performance.

So, while both of those schools made improvements, it’s too early to celebrate — at least definitively.

Quick said he likes to be an optimist and believes Clifty Creek will receive a passing grade, and Griffey said she does not think Hope would receive anything less than a C.

But neither district is putting much stock in that system. Even the Indiana Department of Education and Center for Education and Career Innovation are currently working on revamping the accountability framework.

For now, educators are focusing on growth and progress.

Griffey said today’s results affirmed Hope Elementary is making positive strides and will build on those.

“We’re on the right track,” she said. “I just want to see each and every one of them get better.”

Future in limbo

The ISTEP+ as schools know it is no more. There will be a new assessment delivered in the spring and then another new one the following year. BCSC testing coordinator Samantha Harpring said it comes with more challenges.

The first challenge? Teachers are only now beginning to see sample questions, and there is no promise of a pilot being conducted this fall to ensure testing will go off without a hitch.

Griffey said it means teachers and administrators will need to be extra diligent about keeping up to date about testing, but their true focus is on individual students, not the test.

“We’re focused on knowing our students and knowing how to push them so they’re able to learn at the maximum rate and content level,” she said. “We want to know our students so whatever that test is, we’re going to be ready for it.”

Furthermore, Jensen said educators will not be able to compare next year’s results to this year’s, so districts will not have new baseline data until 2016.

Harpring said educators do know is it will be a technology-enhanced test.

Instead of just clicking to answer, students might have to click the part of the reading passage on a computer screen and drag it to another part of the screen, she said.

And now Quick said the district has several years of data to show that their students perform better when they test on paper and pencil. A trend line shows a dip in 2013 when 20 percent tested on paper and then a spike this year when 70 percent were granted permission to skip the computer.

How do teachers prepare students for a test when they don’t know what will be on it?

“Good teaching, focused instruction,” said Laura Hack, Title I program administrator for the district. “We’d love to know what the assessment looks like, but come (today, the first day of school) everyone is going to be hitting it hard.”

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