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Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials are praising their students’ adaptability during the extended spring ISTEP+ testing period, which resulted in stronger results than were expected after multiple-day computer glitches.
District administrators blame a difficult online format, challenging computer glitches and a general underestimation from the state about how much those factors affected student concentration.
Statewide, students showed slight improvement in English/language arts and math scores in ISTEP scores, which were released Wednesday after months of reviews into online glitches during last spring’s tests.
An independent audit found about 80,000 students in third through eighth grade, or about 1 in 6, had at least one part of the computerized test interrupted when server troubles from contractor CTB/McGraw-Hill kicked them offline.
The Indiana Department of Education said 79.5 percent of students passed the language arts section, with 82.7 passing the math exam. The math pass rate rose 1.5 percentage points from 2012; the language arts pass rate was up one-tenth of a point.
Seven of the 13 BCSC schools had results that exceeded the state averages for both math and English.
Passing rates in the district dropped year-over-year at six elementary schools and rose at five. Rates dropped at both Central and Northside middle schools from the previous year.
Improvement at BCSC elementary schools was led by Southside, which had the second-highest rate in the county with 85.6 percent of students passing both math and English.
Combined passing rates improved year-over-year in both Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp schools, Hope Elementary and Hauser Junior High School, although scores for both were below state averages.
Private schools in Bartholomew County generally performed better on the exams than their public-school counterparts.
St. Bartholomew Catholic School achieved the county’s best combined English and math passing rate among local schools with 88.7 percent.
Its combined scores improved by more than 4 percentage points from the previous year, helped by having a full-time school instructional coach who concentrates specifically on classroom improvement, first-year Principal Helen Heckman said.
She said the school assesses students individually throughout the school year to see where they stand academically. In fact, she said, fifth-grade teachers last school year took it upon themselves to create their own weekly math assessment.
Public school administrators said the year-over-year changes reflected in the state data don’t necessarily mean as much as some people might believe.
BCSC Superintendent John Quick said comparing scores from two successive years provides a snapshot that can reflect simple fluctuations that every school experiences.
He said the district is much more concerned with trends over multiple years. He said those numbers show that student performance is on an upward trajectory, in large part because of new teaching practices that tailor education to the individual student.
But reliable trending data has been difficult to come by in the past two years, Quick said.
He said one of the biggest reasons is that the district switched from testing students primarily online to testing them primarily by pencil and paper, only to revert back to primarily online again last year.
Quick has maintained that students do better on standardized tests when they can put pencil to paper. The school district’s data back that up, with Columbus Signature Academy — Fodrea Campus, for example, rising from 54 percent passing English and math in 2011 to 84 percent passing in 2012, a 30 percentage-point increase.
BCSC got special permission from the state in 2012 to return to paper and pencil because of computer glitches that affected testing in 2011. However, the state has been pushing online testing, requiring that BCSC — and most other school districts in Indiana — return to testing primarily online.
School districts across the state experienced test-halting disruptions and less serious connectivity problems when testing began April 30. Ongoing problems persuaded the state to extend the online testing deadline by a week to May 17.
A state-commissioned analysis ultimately concluded that the computer glitches affected only 300 BCSC students. Local school officials disagreed, however, maintaining that 1,237 BCSC students were affected directly, and that many others were indirectly affected for reasons such as worrying that their own computers might lock up.
Kathy Griffey, superintendent of the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., said her district’s improving passing rates would have been better if not for the computer problems. She said the fact that both district schools saw overall improvement since last year testifies to the dedication of teachers and students.
Shawn Price, principal of Hauser Jr./Sr. High School, said his school would continue to use ISTEP results in combination with acuity and other school-based assessments to improve student achievement across the board.
ISTEP+ also measures student proficiency in science for Grades 3-8 and in social studies for seventh-graders. That data is expected to be released by the end of the year, officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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