News and Tribune

September 18, 2013

ISTEP scores are settled

Local school districts finally get test numbers, with mixed results

NEWS AND TRIBUNE
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Area educators had to wait this year for ISTEP+ scores. And wait ... and wait some more.

When the package of scores was finally opened with the public release of numbers Wednesday, administrators likened it to a Christmas morning bearing some great gifts, with a sock or ugly sweater also under the tree.

English/language arts scores were down for all four school districts in Clark and Floyd counties, and standout grade levels fluctuated by school system.

New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. led area districts with 78.1 percent of students — those in grades three through eight — passing both the English and math portions of the test, although that number was down 0.8 percent from 2012. Clarksville Community Schools showed the largest gain, at 1.3 percentage points, of students passing both parts.

Here’s a look at each of the four school districts, in alphabetical order:



CLARKSVILLE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

Kim Knott, Clarksville’s superintendent, said there was “some phenomenal progress” at the elementary school in English/language arts.

“We are actually the highest third grade for [area] corporations at 90.2 percent passing. I’m going to tell you, that’s just really exciting to see,” she said. “We were just shortly below that at fourth grade at 87.8. Again, we’re tied for tops in fourth grade in corporations around here.

“I know the elementary has just had extensive literacy professional development the last few years, and we’ve seen our scores increase as a result of all of the things that have happened at the elementary in English language arts. And that’s actually [kindergarten] through four," she added.

Knott said the middle school didn’t fare as well in English, but did do much better in math, including an 88.8 percent pass rate in math for eighth graders.

“So we’ve got some real inconsistencies at the same grade levels, I would say,” she said. “We have strengths at the elementary, we tend to have limitations at the middle school and vice versa. We’ve got to seriously look at this.”

Overall, Clarksville had 65 percent of students passing both parts of the ISTEP+ test, the lowest among the four school districts in the two counties, but up from 63.7 percent in 2012 and 62.8 percent in 2011.

“I’m going to just be honest with you — we know that’s in grades five through eight ... You can’t have 88 percent of your eighth-graders passing math, and those same kids, only 69 percent are passing English language arts. That accounts for the gap,” she said. “We can’t be strong in one area and weak in another area.

“We’ve got to be strong in both areas for our kids to have the skills that they need to move on to high school and then to compete once they get out of high school,” Knott said.



GREATER CLARK COUNTY SCHOOLS

Superintendent Andrew Melin called Greater Clark’s numbers “relatively stable” compared to last year.

“I think, overall, our elementary schools seem to perform very well, and at the middle-school level there are some areas of concern for us — especially in seventh grade, where the level of performance was lower than anticipated,” he said. “We’re going to have to sit down and break those numbers out to figure out why that is.”

Just more than 58 percent of students in grade seven passed both parts of the test.

“We are working very hard at a new approach to literacy,” he added. “We have initiatives in place that will make a difference at all levels, particularly at middle school next spring.”

Greater Clark had at least 73 percent of students passing both portions of the test in each of grades three through five. It’s corporation passing rate was 69.2 percent for 2013, down from 69.6 percent last year.

Melin said computer glitches which kicked some students off the computerized test while taking it and the fact that some Greater Clark students were new to the ISTEP+ test likely contributed to the lower scores.

He explained that when he took over as superintendent, the state had notified the district that too many students were slated to take the IMAST test, an alternative assessment test for students with special needs. Melin said it is not uncommon for the state to tell the district that there are too many people identified to take the test and the district was forced to have 105 of its highest performing special needs students that took the IMAST exam in 2012 take the ISTEP+ in 2013.

“What we’ll bring back to the table is of those 105 students that took IMAST [last year] how many of them passed ISTEP+ in 2013?” Melin asked. “My feeling is that we probably struggled with that number, and we knew that we would. We knew by doing that, to meet the state’s requirement of over-identification, we knew it would impact our passage rate.”

Melin said the corporation uses ISTEP numbers for analysis, but that the corporation is “using so many other measures to determine how [students] are doing.

“We need a stronger emphasis on reading and writing skills,” he said. “Literacy framework in K-12 is a strong part of our strategic plan. Our goal is to improve individual student achievement one student at a time."

To that end, he said about one-third of Greater Clark students get specialized individual attention during the school day, and the district has a week-long intercession scheduled for about 1,500 students starting Oct. 7 during fall break. Those students will receive about 20 hours of additional reading and writing instruction.



WEST CLARK COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

West Clark was one of two school corporations to show an overall gain in students passing both portions in 2013 over 2012, with 71.5 percent passing this year, up 0.3 percentage points.

“We have a couple of areas we want to work on, but we did have some really shining points,” said John Reed, West Clark’s assistant superintendent.

Reed pointed to the passing rates for third grade students at Borden Elementary at 87 percent for language arts and 96.3 percent in math. He added that scores for fifth grade students across the district, especially in math, were impressive.

Henryville passed at a 93.9 percent rate, Silver Creek passed at an 85.8 percent rate and Borden passed at a 95.8 percent rate. The state average was 85 percent.

Reed cited the teachers for doing an exceptional job and added that the district is focusing on an effort to improve reading comprehension.

He said the plan is to use computerized, self-paced programs to help improve future scores. The focus for West Clark will be on kindergarten through second grade to make sure the students are at the third grade reading level by end of that year.

Reed added that the level at which the state reset the cutoff scores for language arts may have had an impact on the passage rates dropping slightly across the districts in the area, including West Clark.

“It can affect the numbers of kids that pass,” he said.

Another anomaly for this year’s ISTEP+ results was that it did not reflect the Acuity testing that the district conducted earlier in the year.

“The kids did better on ISTEP+ than Acuity said they would do,” he said. “In the past it has been a pretty good predictor of how the students would do on ISTEP+.”

While Reed is not complaining, he said it is something he will look into.

“I’m not disappointed in anything, I’m very satisfied with it,” he said of the overall test results.



NEW ALBANY-FLOYD COUNTY

As in past years, New Albany-Floyd County school led the way in the percentage of students passing the individual parts of ISTEP+, as well as passing both.

“Our internal indicators said we were going to have a great year, then everything happened [computer interruption] so we didn’t know what to expect,” said Sally Jensen, director of assessment and student information for NA-FC schools. “We were all thrilled that we were able to maintain a 13-point gain in ELA [English/language arts] and a 20-point gain in math since 2009.”

Jensen said there were 1,345 students who were kicked offline during the English/language arts portion of the test and 1,693 during the math section. However, the state only labeled 15 of the English/language arts tests invalid and nine of the math scores. She said when a student is interrupted like they were during a test, they can become frustrated or affected in other ways.

The high point for NA-FC was in fifth and sixth grade math, where more than 92 percent of students taking that portion of the test passed. Grades three and four shined in English/language arts, with students passing at a rate of more than 86 percent.

More than 75 percent of NA-FC students taking the test passed each portion at every grade level.

“You always want to score higher,” she said. “But with everything that happened we were thrilled with the scores.”

Look for in-depth stories about scores at each school district in upcoming editions of the News and Tribune and at newsandtribune.com

— Matt Koesters, Braden Lammers, Chris Morris and Shea Van Hoy contributed to this report.