Schools see ‘big improvement’ with ILEARN

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

For the first time since the 1980s, Indiana students aren’t taking an ISTEP test this year.

Instead, students are taking ILEARN, or the Indiana Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network. The new test came after several years of issues with the ISTEP test, including complaints from educators that the test was too long and did not accurately represent student growth.

In 2017, the state legislature passed House Bill 1003, which set the parameters for ILEARN. Over the next year, the Indiana Department of Education worked with educators to develop the test, which is fully online, administered in a single testing window and adaptive, meaning the questions become easier or more difficult depending on if students answer correctly.

Schools are currently three weeks into the four-week testing window the state gave for completion of the standardized test. So far, local schools report it’s working well.

“We’ve seen a big improvement on the technical side,” said Angie Burch, assessment director at North Spencer Schools.

Southeast Dubois Testing Coordinator and Pine Ridge Elementary Principal Ryan Haas said his schools have seen fewer login issues, and the test’s infrastructure seems easier to work with than in previous years.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges.

The new test is structured to allow schools and teachers more flexibility. As long as all the tests are completed within the four-week testing window, schools can choose when to administer the tests. That can be daunting since there are several tests in the English and math sections that all students in third through eighth grade take. Fourth- and-sixth graders also take a science section, and fifth-graders have a social studies section.

It’s up to teachers to schedule the assessments, assign the assessments in the online platform and make sure students make up any assessments they miss.

“The downside (to the flexibility) is it’s a lot more work for teachers,” Burch said.

Another major difference between ILEARN and ISTEP is that there is no time limit for individual tests. With ISTEP, students had so many minutes to get through tests that were more or less the same for each student. Since ILEARN is adaptive, tests vary student to student, starting with questions at the average level and getting easier or more difficult depending on student answers. That also means some students can take longer on their tests than others.

“It does take a lot of planning and flexibility,” said Southridge Middle School Principal Greg Gogel. “But so far, it’s been very smooth for us here at Southridge.”

Educators have also noticed that the test is longer this year than in previous years. Part of that, Haas said, is because it’s a new test and the questions are being vetted. Even so, the length has been hard on the students.

“The amount of sessions and the length of sessions has been a little bit daunting for students,” Haas said.

He expects the test to be shorter next year.

Overall, Burch said it seems like students will be testing fewer minutes total. With the ISTEP, students took standardized tests in the winter and the spring. With ILEARN, they are only tested in the spring.

Though cautiously optimistic about the test’s future, educators agreed it’s too early to tell if ILEARN is an improvement.

“Anytime you change there’s a learning curve that first year,” Burch said. “Then after a couple years we have an idea of if we like it or not.”

Haas agreed.

“My opinion is it has the potential to be very effective at showing what the students know and getting schools the data they need,” he said.

Haas was part of the committee with the Indiana Department of Education that wrote test questions and aligned them with state education standards.

Beyond student scores, ILEARN will also be tied to teacher evaluations, state accountability grades and state funding, just as ISTEP scores were. Educators are still waiting to hear how the state will decide to use the scores for those purposes.




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