Educators: Pass rates unreliable

HANCOCK COUNTY — Local educators say they’re using other assessments and tests to determine how students are progressing in their schools rather than relying on newly released ISTEP scores.

This week, the Indiana Department of Education released scores for the 2016 ISTEP, some 280 days after students took the exam last spring. Locally, some educators and administrators say the scores are useless in helping them identify which students need more help since students have moved on to new grades. Statewide, 66.1 percent of students in third through eighth grades passed the English/language arts section of the exam; 58.9 percent passed the math portion of the test.

Locally, scores vary widely, with some schools seeing gains when compared with the year before and others seeing dips in their passing rates. Overall, corporations saw passing rates between 61 and 73 percent, down from 75 to 81 percent in 2014. Educators say they’re disappointed in the scores, and they look forward to a new assessment that returns scores sooner so teachers can make adjustments to lessons as needed. A state committee is working on a proposal to replace the ISTEP, which is set to go before lawmakers in next year’s legislative session.

Southern Hancock

Southern Hancock Schools saw some of the highest passing rates in the county this year.

Corporation wide, from third through eighth grade, the district’s 73.2 percent passing rate for the English/language arts section of the exam surpassed the state average of 66.1 percent. The average math score for the district’s third through eighth graders was 66.4 percent, well above the state average of 58.

The scores are being analyzed and will be used as a new benchmark for student progress, but they can’t be readily used to improve individual student learning, administrators said.

“Our teachers don’t have the information they need to even understand what kids might have missed on the test,” said Superintendent Lisa Lantrip. “All we have are the scores.”

Educators use other assessments to track student progress. For years, the district has used the Northwest Educational Assessment, a standardized test students take a few times a year.

“Those are really the indicators we’re using to make adjustments,” Lantrip said.


Greenfield-Central Superintendent Harold Olin said he was disappointed in this year’s scores, especially at the junior high level.

The number of seventh- and eighth-grade students who passed math at Greenfield Central Junior High dropped from 58.6 percent to 56.4 percent. Just 50 percent of students in eighth grade passed the math test, a decrease from 64.1 percent in 2015.

While educators will use ISTEP scores to make adjustments in curriculum and lessons, they don’t rely solely on the scores to determine how well students are learning, although they are used by the department of education to determine school letter grades and teacher pay, Olin said.

Olin points to the Northwest Evaluation Assessment, which is administered three times a year, as a more reliable test. Feedback is immediate, and educators can compare their students’ scores with those across the country, which they’re unable to do with ISTEP.

“We don’t want to overreact,” Olin said. “The best practice is to always look at multiple assessments. … We’re going to continue to learn from ISTEP, continue to make changes and do better on the test.”

Mt. Vernon

Every Mt. Vernon school’s overall passing rate in math and English fell below 2015’s scores. District-wide, the number of students who passed English fell from 72.5 percent to 67.1 percent. In math, the passing rate dropped from 68.6 percent to 61.4 percent.

The drop Mt. Vernon saw in 2016 was echoed in statewide scores, which also fell from 2015.

It’s important parents, students and educators remember the 2016 test was a new version administered by a new vendor, and 2016 was the third time in three years students took a test different from the year before, Superintendent Shane Robbins wrote in a statement to the Daily Reporter.

“As educators, dedicated to our students, we will not make excuses but deal with the hand we’re dealt,” he said.

Like other local school corporations, Mt. Vernon relies on multiple assessments to track student learning and will continue to do so, he said.

Eastern Hancock

Educators at Eastern Hancock Schools say scores on this year’s ISTEP test do not reflect the success students see every day in their classrooms.

The number of students who passed the English/language arts portion of the exam fell below the state average, with third-graders seeing the most dramatic drop in test scores when compared with the year prior. The passing rate for third graders dropped from 56.8 to 52.3 percent.

Eastern Hancock officials attributed the drop to the increased rigor of the test and little rest time between exams.

In the last few years, Indiana elementary schools have had to complete the first round of ISTEP and the IREAD-3 test within two weeks, adding to students’ stress, elementary school principal Amanda Pyle said.

Eastern Hancock superintendent Vicki McGuire said the test scores don’t reflect the district’s strengths.

“We absolutely believe we should be held accountable; however, these scores are not indicative of what we do at Eastern Hancock,” McGuire said in an email.

Staff writers Kristy Deer and Rorye Hatcher contributed to this report.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or