HANCOCK COUNTY — Newly released ISTEP data has local administrators mulling ways to better prepare students for the next round of testing set to begin in two months.
School administrators were prepared for ISTEP scores to drop in 2015 after the state made changes to the test in hopes of better measuring how prepared students are for college, but some were surprised by the numbers.
ISTEP scores for every Hancock County school dropped anywhere from 4 to 28 percentage points when compared with 2014 test results. Still, every school corporation’s overall passing rate for both math and English was higher than the state’s average of 54, a silver lining after months of dealing with a test educators say was plagued with problems.
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Additionally, fourth- and sixth-graders across the state also took a science ISTEP, on which Hancock County school corporations saw a slight increase from 2014 to 2015.
Eden Elementary in Greenfield saw the highest overall passing rate for both the English and math portions of the test, with 87 percent of students passing.
Greenfield-Central school superintendent Harold Olin said those numbers left him feeling encouraged despite grim preliminary numbers released three months ago that called for scores to plummet.
Local educators say parents and the community shouldn’t focus on the lower test scores because comparing the 2014 test to 2015’s is similar to comparing apples and oranges. The scores released Wednesday don’t accurately depict how schools or students are performing, administrators said.
Last spring’s test, given to students in third through eighth grades, was more rigorous than tests before; questions were more difficult in 2015, and there were discrepancies in the way schools were allowed to give the exam.
Some students took it with paper and pencil, which educators argued was easier, while others used an online test form, which brought computer glitches to schools across the state. Scores were initially scheduled to be released in August.
After state officials found a scoring issue between two versions of the exam, results were pushed back again, leaving local administrators and teachers to prepare for the 2016 test without knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses on the previous assessment.
Olin said school officials plan to spend the coming weeks reviewing English, language arts and math programming at Greenfield Central Junior High, which saw the largest decrease in the number of students who passed the English portion of the exam.
Olin said changes to programming might include more class time dedicated to English and math than in years past.
Mt. Vernon School Corp. administrators declined to comment on its scores, which showed a 20 percentage point decrease in the number of students who passed both the English and math tests.
District communications director Maria Bond said superintendent Shane Robbins is watching the legislature to first understand how it will handle this year’s scores — particularly whether they’ll be factored into accountability grades and teacher compensation — before commenting.
In the past, ISTEP scores have been used for determining school letter grades and teacher performance, which impacts whether teachers are eligible for a pay increase or performance stipend.
Educators say using this year’s scores to evaluate school and teacher performance is unfair and called on lawmakers for a state law to protect them.
They say the low ISTEP scores paint the wrong picture of student and teacher success. For example, Southern Hancock Schools saw a double digit drop in the number of students who passed both the math and English portion of the test.
The school has little confidence scores released Wednesday accurately reflect students’ skill levels, said Rhonda Peterson, curriculum director. Officials at Southern Hancock declined to comment further about what the school corporation is doing to prepare students for this year’s test.
Some educators say the state shouldn’t be comparing students’ scores at all. Instead, schools should track student progress from year to year as a way to indicate success, said Dave Pfaff, Eastern Hancock Middle School principal.
“We should be looking at whether a student is behind or catching up, that they’re moving through the curriculum as they should be. … Even if it was the same test, which it wasn’t, the only moral comparison is to what this child did last year.”
And the results released Wednesday don’t provide enough detailed information to give educators direction for helping students better prepare for future tests, Pfaff said.
For now, teachers at Eastern Hancock schools are using examples similar to those on last year’s test to expose students to problems they’ll likely be asked to solve.
Educators said their focus remains on doing their best to prepare students for this spring’s test, which will be administered in March by a different testing vendor than in 2015, to ensure they don’t see the same results as last year.
Melissa Ewald, whose sixth-grade daughter took the exam at Greenfield Intermediate School last spring, said she’s lost confidence in the accuracy of the assessment and believes high-stake testing puts too much pressure on students and teachers.
“Now I think it’s become clear that it stresses our teachers out, and I know it stresses our kids out also,” Ewald said.
She believes it’s important to measure students progress, but doesn’t think a single test is the answer.
“I just don’t think ISTEP should be the be-all, end-all,” Ewald said.
Hancock County schools fared better than the state benchmark of 54 percent on last year’s English and math ISTEP. Here’s a look at the number of students who passed those tests:
State average: 54 percent
Southern Hancock: 60 percent
Greenfield-Central: 59 percent
Mt. Vernon: 59 percent
Eastern Hancock: 57 percent
The state’s fourth- and sixth-graders also took a science ISTEP. Here’s how Hancock County school corporations performed in 2015 compared to 2014.
Southern Hancock: 2014 – 83 percent; 2015 – 83 percent
Greenfield-Central: 2014 – 75 percent; 2015 – 76 percent
Mt. Vernon: 2014 – 78 percent; 2015 – 83 percent
Eastern Hancock: 2014 – 75 percent; 2015 – 78 percent