Schools: ILEARN one piece of measurement puzzle


When the Indiana Department of Education released the results of ILEARN — the state’s newest standardized test — on Wednesday, the numbers confirmed what was already known.

The state’s students earned lower achievement levels in both English and language arts as well as mathematics when compared to scores from ISTEP, the test previously used to measure Indiana students.

Still, many local schools outperformed the state averages. Not all met them, however.

“While the 2019 ILEARN results do not provide a true reflection of the performance of Indiana’s schools, they do once again show us the importance of developing a modernized state legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent,” State Superintendent Dr. Jennifer McCormick said in a press release. “With this in mind, the Department [of Education] will propose the following legislative actions: place a ‘hold harmless’ year on 2018-2019 letter grades, pause intervention timelines for all schools, and provide the State Board of Education with emergency rulemaking authority to review and reestablish the state accountability system. The success and wellbeing of our schools and educators is dependent upon these actions.”

Standardized test results also make up a large portion of the A-F accountability letter grades assigned to schools. Years of failing grades can lead to state intervention, and the scores are also part of Indiana’s teacher evaluation system and can impact ratings and pay.

Instead of rating students by whether they passed or failed, ILEARN results released to the public break down the number and percentage of students below, approaching, at, and above proficiency in various subject areas.

The school average across the state included 47.9% of students displaying proficiency in English and language arts, 47.8% showing proficiency in math, and 37.1% displaying proficiency in both subjects.
Todd Hitchcock, assistant superintendent of Greater Jasper Schools, stressed that the scores are just one factor when it comes to determining school success. Other local school superintendents echoed his sentiment.

“We take it seriously, but obviously, it represents one little piece of the puzzle of everything we do,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we do that can’t be measured on the test, and so we like to emphasize those and make sure that those are treated with equal importance, even though they don’t get quite the attention that the test does.”

In a separate interview, Dan Scherry, superintendent of North Spencer Schools, said: “The unfortunate thing is, how many times is the public going to have to see the unreliability of these scores before they start just brushing it off like it’s got no value at all?

“Our kids have got to take the test seriously, their parents have got to prepare them with a very serious approach. And if we continue to take tests that, after the fact, we say ‘They don’t matter because we had a reset,’ if you do that every four or five years, eventually people are going to stop paying attention to that. And that’s not healthy, either.”

Comparing ILEARN to the state’s previous test — the widely-criticized ISTEP — is tricky. Though similar in name, the two are very different tests.

Mandated during the 2017 legislative session, ILEARN was created to serve as a replacement for ISTEP. The new exam assesses college and career readiness content standards in English and language arts and mathematics in grades three through eight; science in grades four and six; social studies in grade five; and U.S. Government and biology in high school.

Per the press release, while performance dips were expected to some degree, the “combination of the rigors associated with this newly aligned CCR [career and college readiness] assessment, national normative data, and the defined established performance cuts all contributed to the lower performance levels.”

ILEARN was developed with input from more than 1,200 educators and assesses the same Indiana Academic Standards as ISTEP, but with a redefined focus on rigorous college and career readiness.

The state’s new assessment went through several significant shifts, including the development of content priorities defined with the assistance of Indiana educators, computer-adaptive functionality, integration of new accessibility features such as translated glossaries, a Spanish translation option, and reporting aligned to rigorous college and career readiness indicators as early as third grade.

Complete, statewide results can be found online here.

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