Schools see dramatic drop in test scores with ILEARN

By Brynna Sentel
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—Results from the state’s newest standardized tests show that more than half of all third through eighth graders fell far short of meeting basic skills in math and language arts.

The results of the new ILEARN tests, presented Wednesday to the State Board of Education, show that only 47.8% of students were proficient in math, 47.9% were proficient in English and language arts – and a dismal 37.1% were proficient in both.

David Freitas talks about the latest ILEARN scores at Wednesday’s  Indiana Board of Education meeting. Photo by Brandon Barger, TheStatehouseFile.com

“Fewer than 50% of students not meeting basic proficiency startles and concerns me,” said David Freitas, a member of the Board of Education.

The board passed a pass a resolution recommending against using the ILEARN scores to lower a school’s grade on the state’s A through F scale. They also requested a pause in the timeline the board uses when it decides whether to intervene in a poorly-performing school and allow time for emergency rule making.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and the General Assembly’s legislative leaders last week called for holding schools harmless for a year after they were made aware that the scores from the ILEARN test, administered in the spring, were so low.

On Wednesday, Tony Walker, secretary of the board, said of the hold harmless proposal: “We have done this before…I really don’t like it. The scores are what they are.”

Overall, Hoosier students experienced a collective 16.7% drop in English and language arts scores and 11.1% dip in math from the previous ISTEP+ exam, following an already steep drop of 13.4% and 22.5% respectively in the 2014 to 2015 school year.

One parent at the meeting questioned why such young children should be subjected to such rigorous testing.

“I am sick of my kid being a guinea pig,” said Kathryn Francis, a parent of two children.  ”It’s not the child’s responsibility to assess the instruction. I also think it is a little absurd to judge a third grader, an 8-year-old’s college readiness.”

Kathryn Francis tells the State Board of Education that her son does well in school yet his ILEARN scores don’t reflect that. Photo by Brandon Barger, TheStatehouseFile.com

Her son, she told the board, “is proficient in math. He is proficient in English.” He gets nearly straight As in school, she said, yet failed two of three sections of ILEARN.

“The grades he got on ILEARN are not a reflection of his ability,” Francis said, her voice filled emotion.

Francis’s concerns were shared by teachers from the Terre Haute area.

“There are much more powerful predictors of a kids’ success that are not test-based,” said Ross Cadick, a teacher at Terre Haute North Vigo High School.

Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, agreed and said there are other aspects of children’s lives that can’t be tested, such as their perseverance and a passion for learning. She is a math teacher at Terre Haute North Vigo High School.

“A lot of kids are late bloomers,” Pfaff said. “They can’t sit still in a classroom for five 70-minute class periods a day but they go out and they are your best workers, they are your smartest surgeons. Everyone learns in different ways.”

Marie Theisz, who also teaches at Terre Haute North, said that when she started teaching, students took exams but they weren’t as test-driven.

“I personally feel our kids were better problem solvers, creative thinkers and had a focus on just the learning and getting ideas, and then we became more test-focused,” she said. “I have two kids in college and that’s not what college is about.”

Pfaff, Cadick and Theisz all continue to encourage their students by reassuring them that they are worth more than a test score.

Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, is the superintendent at Crothersville Community Schools and expressed similar frustrations with the test.

Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, expressed frustration with  the ILEARN results from his role as a school  superintendent. Photo by Brandon Barger, TheStatehouseFile.com

“The most important thing for me as a school superintendent is to instill in elementary students a love of learning,” he said.

Goodin said a problem is constantly changing standartds.

“If you’re told you’re going to have soup and they bring your entree and it’s steak and all you have is a spoon, it’s going to be very difficult to eat that. You’re going to get through it like they do but it’s going to be very difficult and the result of that meal will probably not be the same had you been given the proper tools to work with,” he said.

Regardless of the tools provided, Goodin said, the only way to truly know if a student is on track is through their teachers because of their daily interaction with each student.

Brynna Sentel is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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