News and Tribune

September 26, 2013

Figuring out the ISTEP figures

NA-FC Schools’ officials to study impact of interruptions on ISTEP scores

By JEROD CLAPP
jerod.clapp@newsandtribune.com

FLOYD COUNTY — Though its scores are still the highest in Clark and Floyd counties, the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. had its share of ups and downs with its 2013 ISTEP+ performance.

Technology hiccups in May’s testing sessions still leaves district officials with questions about how they might have affected scores. Sally Jensen, director of assessment and student information, said based on the district’s internal assessments over the last year, she’s a little disappointed with the ISTEP scores.

“I think we’re a little below where we thought we were going to be,” Jensen said. “If you look at our district scores, we’re almost exactly where we were  last year.”

The district’s totals dropped in math, English/language arts and students passing both, but never a full percentage point. Even looking at school averages in those subjects, most of the drops stayed within five percentage points compared to last year.

“We always want it better, but yet, we just had no idea what to expect,” Jensen said. “I guess the best comment I can make is that we’ve been able to maintain our 13-point gain in ELA and our 20-point gain in math since 2009.”



TESTING ANOMALIES

District third-graders suffered some of the most significant drops in scores. Overall in the corporation, their math scores suffered a 5.8 percentage-point drop.

However, Jensen said the first round of testing was for third-graders in math — that’s also when the most significant outages and interruptions in testing servers were recorded.

“There’s just no way to know for sure,” Jensen said. “Internally, we think it had an effect in terms of the kids’ passing, but the state’s the only one that can really determine that. Based on their markers, I had six third graders deemed invalid in math.”

Jensen said the problems with testing and the anomalies they observed aren’t excuses for performance, but they make her wonder about how the results would have come out if testing went more smoothly.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to determine that because of what happened back in May,” Jensen said. “With the interruptions and everything that happened, I don’t now that we’ll ever get to it. But we’re just trying to make sure that we’re  not seeing any anomalies over last year.”

She said she didn’t know how many third-graders reported testing issues, but the district totals were very high — 3,038 in math and E/LA.

Of those, the state labeled 24 scores invalid.

But Jensen said she also looked for students who made “pass +” last year and then didn’t pass this year.

“That just doesn’t happen,” Jensen said.

She said she found only two instances of that.



GAINS AND LOSSES

Though the overall scores for the district were down, some schools saw big gains over last year’s scores.

Grant Line Elementary School had the most overall improvement over the most subject areas. With only third grade math faltering by six percentage points, the gains in every other category ranged from .4 percentage points to more than 7 percentage points from last year.

While S. Ellen Jones Elementary School’s third-grade scores in math dropped the most out of any school in the district, its fourth graders saw the biggest gains overall. Math improved by 15.2 percentage points, E/LA improved by 24.5 percentage points and students passing both subjects jumped by 24.8 percentage points.

Two schools had drops in every category, but their scores never fell below 84-percent passing. Georgetown Elementary and Floyds Knobs Elementary were the only elementary schools without any improvement over last year.

Scribner Middle School lost footing in every category for grades five through eight, but the other middle schools showed ups and downs.

“It was really hit and miss for us this year,” Jensen said. “They might have been down in one area and up in another. There are pockets in a certain grade level at a certain school that maybe we didn’t see that coming, but we’re looking at those anomalies. An elementary school, depending on its size, could be a shift of four or five percent within a couple of students. That makes a big difference.”



NEXT STEPS

Jensen said with ISTEP results all over the place, there’s not a push to change the direction the district has taken to improving scores in any given grade level. Instead, it’s going to keep doing what it’s been doing.

“There’s not a key area,” Jensen said. “What we’re going to do is to delve into writing pieces. We want to make sure kids have to do a writing prompt. It’s scored on a six-point rubric and we want kids performing at the top.

She said her department will pore over the data to see if the students performed where they thought they should have on the writing prompts, along with the rest of the figures.

Though that’s going to take months, Jensen said they’re going to make sure they’ve covered every problem that might have happened. Otherwise, they’re going to make sure they continue giving students the help they need.

“The way we operate is by name and by need,” Jensen said. “We try to name every student with their specific need, and that’s what we do in a professional learning community.”