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Local superintendents call for changes after ILEARN results released

Southwestern Elementary third grade students learn what’s in store for them on the first day of the 2018-19 school year.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

While statewide results found that less than half of students across the state of Indiana reached proficiency standards in the new Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment (ILEARN) test, which replaced ISTEP last school year, Shelby County school districts finished slightly better in some cases.

But like throughout the state, test scores declined across the board in the county, at least in part because of the more stringent academic standards set by the test when compared to ISTEP.

That doesn’t mean it’s time for parents to panic, however, according to local superintendents.

They expressed frustration at the assessment’s accuracy and the fact that the state has continually changed expectations.

While calling the statewide assessments over the years “meaningless,” Southwestern Consolidated superintendent Dr. Paula Maurer called for a change in how the state measures student achievement.

“Our students work diligently,” she said. “They’re given all they have. The state keeps changing the target. Look at where we started years ago in this testing and you’ll see how many times it’s changed. They changed the rules, they changed the target, they changed what they wanted kids to know. If they continue to do that, it’s very difficult to hit a moving target.”

Northwestern Consolidated superintendent Chris Hoke said Triton Central schools place more emphasis on the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) assessment, which is given three times a year – in August, in the winter and in the spring.

He said that assessment allows teachers to adjust their plan based on the students’ progress through the course of the year.

“An analogy is this: NWEA is a medical checkup,” he said. “ILEARN is essentially an academic autopsy.”

Southwestern Consolidated had the highest percentage of students pass the English Language Arts portion (59.8 percent), but that was down from 72.6 percent in the 2018 ISTEP exam. The corporation wasn’t alone in having a lower percentage pass from the previous year – all four school districts had fewer students pass the ILEARN exam for ELA, math and both, when compared to the 2018 ISTEP test.

Southwestern also passed 51.2 percent in math on the ILEARN exam.

Northwestern had the highest percentage to pass math (55.8 percent), and both ELA and math (43 percent).

As a whole among the three elementary schools and middle school, 46.4 percent of Shelbyville Central Schools students passed the ELA portion while 52.2 percent passed math. The percentage dropped to 37.8 percent among those who passed both.

At Shelby Eastern, 46.2 percent passed ELA, 52 percent passed math and 36.1 percent passed both.

SCS superintendent Mary Harper said they will analyze the ILEARN results to help students prepare for the ILEARN test later this school year. She recommended parents look at the assessment data as well as teacher progress reports to monitor their child’s performance.

Hoke, however, said he would recommend parents ignore the ILEARN results entirely.

“It’s a valuable diagnostic tool if it’s the right test and used the right way,” he said. “Standardized testing should not be used to rank schools or be a political tool.”

Prior to the statewide results becoming available to the public, there was concern that lower scores would affect school grades. That, in turn, could affect teacher evaluations.

Last week, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick encouraged the General Assembly to delay giving school letter grades.

On Wednesday, the Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that would stop any action from being taken on giving school letter grades until the General Assembly looks into the transition with the new exam.

“In line with Gov. Holcomb’s call to hold harmless, the Board will not place school letter grades until the General Assembly takes the appropriate action to ensure this year’s ILEARN scores do not have an adverse impact on schools and teachers,” said B.J. Watts, board chair, in a press release. “Once action has been taken, the Board will hold a special meeting to assign those grades.”

The move was met with approval from local superintendents who also called for more to be done.

“Obviously, it’s not right to hold schools to give schools grades off of a meaningless, flawed, assessment,” Maurer said. “That means that the grades are meaningless and flawed. What would be the purpose of that?”

Harper said it was important that Gov. Holcomb pass the resolution, exempting teacher evaluations and schools and districts from being held accountable for the first-year results.

“The General Assembly needs to look at more than just the transition to ILEARN, but the total evaluation of this flawed assessment system,” she wrote in an e-mail. “One state assessment cannot measure all student outcomes that are relevant to future success including work ethic, study habits, citizenship, and job related skills.”

Maurer said the solution will come from leadership at the top, teachers, parent involvement and redirecting the money that is spent on the assessments and reallocating it back into the schools.

“If we were spending the kind of money in our schools and putting that toward teachers and teacher development and getting the best teachers we can, which teachers work so hard anyway, it would look very different,” she said.