By JEROD CLAPP
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
As they put pencils down to paper, students across the state will work to bring up ISTEP+ scores for their school districts as the testing season begins Monday.
From third through eighth grade, state testing will assess schools in four different subject areas, two of which they’re held accountable for by the Indiana Department of Education — English/language arts and math.
Districts in Floyd and Clark counties had their own victories and challenges last year, but officials said they all hope to see increased scores this time around.
The destruction left after last year’s tornado kept students at Henryville Elementary and Junior/Senior High School from taking ISTEP+. John Reed, assistant superintendent for West Clark Community Schools, said as with everything in Henryville, this year’s test results will produce a new normal for the schools.
“The students have been through an awful lot,” Reed said. “Last year, they were thrust into an entirely different environment, a different schedule [in the temporary schools]. It’s just a kind of ‘who knows’ how they’re going to react academically to all that that happened.”
He said there are still students who are displaced from their homes and trying to adjust after last year’s losses, but he still has high hopes for them in Henryville and across the district.
“The teachers are very aware of the situation and they have been putting as much extra preparation into it as they possibly can,” Reed said. “They’ve been working together in coming up with the best instructional presentations possible.”
He said on top of the time teachers have taken to get students ready, they’ve also exercised more collaboration with each other to get on the same page with student progress.
Though he said he thinks scores will increase, they’ll have to wait and see what actually happens.
“I’m really anticipating that we do quite well,” Reed said, “but again, time will tell.”
New Albany-Floyd County Schools
Coming out on top in scores across two counties, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated Schools have to top their own act this year to stay on top of the list locally.
Rhonda Mull, director of middle schools, said they plan on doing more of the same with classroom strategies and hope to see similar results to last year, posting gains in ELA, math and students passing both subjects.
“Our core mission has stayed the same, so that our course has not changed direction,” Mull said. “Our teachers have continued to work extremely hard and I would say in fine-tuning the skills that they started on three years ago. There really has not been any kind of change in the programming, it’s just been clarifying, fine-tuning and focusing in on the core mission.”
But she said teachers have focused more on helping students learn and understand their class materials by working on more individualized learning plans for each child.
“Teachers have worked harder on the intervention and acceleration,” Mull said. “We get them in a timely and specific way into an acceleration block to get them the help that they need. All of them can learn what’s required, some just need more time and assistance.”
But she said the schools have also worked to prepare for the second phase of testing in April, which puts every student at a computer to answer multiple-choice questions instead of filling in bubbles. She said coordinating computer lab time has been a challenge, but they should have everything worked out by next month.
Greater Clark County Schools
With a new leader at the helm, Greater Clark’s scores could set something of a benchmark for the programs and initiatives Superintendent Andrew Melin has employed since taking the job last summer.
He said while he brings in his own brand of intervention programs to the district, employing some of the strategies that worked for the district before is another key piece to getting students to perform successfully on ISTEP+.
“I think the one thing we’ve tried to do is maintain some of the programs that were in place prior to my arrival that helped improve student achievement,” Melin said. “But also, I hope we increase the ability to focus on individual student interventions. We started our new IMPACT initiative in January so we’re only going to have a few months [of that] under our belt... my hope is that it will be of help to us as we’re trying to improve student achievement.”
Melin said he hopes to see ELA scores increase to 80 percent of students passing district-wide and math scores jump to 82 percent as a district. He said though each represent several percentage points in gain, he thinks the goals are reasonable enough to attain.
Clarksville Community Schools
Last year, Clarksville saw the most significant jump in ELA scores of the four districts in Clark and Floyd counties, but also the most significant dip in math scores.
In an interview in July of 2012, Superintendent Kim Knott said gains for the district from 2009 were significant, but the dip in math scores had her concerned.
“That can be a reading comprehension issue,” Knott said in the 2012 interview. “However, when you make the gains in reading and literacy, that should transfer to mathematical problem solving. Why is that transfer not happening? Do they know how to translate a technical reading passage? It could be just a translation issue.”
She said at the time that the district’s TAP model — which focuses on intense professional development for teachers — would extend from middle and high schools to elementary schools, which should have provided some more consistency in teaching models from school to school.
Clarksville officials were contacted for comment, but did not respond before press time.