Superintendent Jones expresses frustrations over State ISTEP+ inconsistencies

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Now that schools here in Switzerland County and all around the State of Indiana have gone on their winter breaks, which symbolically marks the halfway point of the school year, controversy continues to surround the state’s ISTEP+ test, which is supposed to measure the educational growth of all Indiana students – but instead has school administrators and others upset over a wide range of inconsistencies.

Switzerland County School Superintendent Mike Jones is among them.

The test, which leads to schools receiving a ‘grade’ of A-F based on test scores and other components, such as growth from one year to the next, has come under fire all over the state because of all sorts of inconsistencies and problems that have been acknowledged, but have not been fixed. The grade that a school gets – if it is bad over a period of years – can result in schools being ‘taken over’ by the state; the loss of jobs for teachers and administrators and staff.

With so much riding on the results of the tests, school superintendents all over Indiana are demanding that the results be accurate.

Also at the center of the controversy is that the results of last year’s tests have not yet been reported. One of the key components of the test is to provide schools with a ‘snapshot’ of what areas they are excelling in and what areas they might be more weak in. Superintendents are asking how they can make adjustments when halfway through the school year, the scores of last year’s tests still haven’t been released?

“We are in the same boat with all of the other schools,” Jones said. “Of course everything’s embargoed, but we have several different issues here. The fact that our two elementary schools took different tests; the fact that when the state opted out of the Common Core and adopted their own standards, instead of waiting they went ahead and pushed that test with those new standards.”

Jones says that the school corporation has now received word that the test may have been scored incorrectly, putting scores of students in limbo as the state attempts to clean up the mess and school corporations wait for results that they feel are accurate.

“Most of the problems are being seen in grades 3-8,” Jones said. “The elementary schools and the middle schools are just ridiculous.”

With all of the issues, does the superintendent think that there’s a chance that the Indiana Department of Education will simply throw the results out all together?

“I think absolutely,” he said. “I think (Governor) Mike Pence and the legislature will be addressing this, probably right at the very beginning of the session. I think there’s a very good chance that the grades end up not being used to impact teacher evaluations.”

In response to school corporations all around Indiana making their frustrations public, Jones and School Testing Coordinator Fred Ross have composed a letter addressing their frustrations and issues.

The letter is contained here:

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To the Community of the

Switzerland County School Corporation:

Soon the State of Indiana will release the 2014-2015 ISTEP+ results. Our staff is currently reviewing these results, and as predicted by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), scores in both English/Language Arts and Mathematics have significantly dropped throughout the state and within our own corporation.

Throughout the state, scores have drastically declined by an average of 16-percent in English/Language Arts and 24-percent in Mathematics. Overall our students, in grades 3 through 8, have dropped 19.7-percent in English/Language Arts and 27-percent in Mathematics which is slightly higher, but still close to the state average.

I share the same opinion with administrators throughout the State of Indiana that our state assessment for the 2014-2015 school year was a flawed and inaccurate system.

I truly believe that the result of these ISTEP+ assessments do not accurately evaluate and measure our students’ performances, their educational growth, and the job our teachers and administrators do to educate our students.

As superintendent, I would like to share with parents and the community some of my concerns regarding state test scores and our schools letter grades before they are made public, possibly in January.

Some of my concerns regarding the validity of 2014-2015 ISTEP+ assessment are as follows:

1. Students were assessed on the new College and Career Readiness Standards, which are much more rigorous than the previous standards. What makes this unfair is that the IDOE adopted these standards in April of 2014 and revisions were made to these standards during the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.

Thus, giving all teachers in the State of Indiana a short period of time to restructure and adjust the curriculum and align their teaching methods to these new academic standards.

2. In addition to new academic standards, the state also included technology enhanced questions for the first time. Adding technology enhanced items (such as, different question types, multiple correct responses, drag and drop, select and order, and drop down boxes) to the ISTEP+ test created a new format to the test that has never been experienced before.

3. Originally the 2014-2015 ISTEP+ test was scheduled to be an extremely lengthy assessment. However, the governor intervened to shorten the length of the assessment. This intervention resulted in the assessments being divided into two different groups and schools were assigned different versions of the test throughout the state.

Jefferson Craig Elementary and Switzerland County Elementary were assigned two different tests.

How can students be compared equally throughout the state if given different tests?

4. The IDOE required schools to give the ISTEP+ multiple choice assessments online. However, during the practice test numerous computer issues occurred over multiple attempts. Because of these computer issues, the IDOE gave schools the option of taking the ISTEP+ assessment online or paper/pencil.

Schools made their decisions about taking the ISTEP+ assessments online or paper/pencil based on the level of frustration they experienced during the practice test. Therefore, some schools were taking the ISTEP+ online while other schools were taking the ISTEP+ paper/pencil.

Since the state administered these assessments without any continuity or consistency, it is going to be difficult to compare these ISTEP+ results.

5. Two important components of the school’s accountability grade are performance scores and student growth. Recently, the state released preliminary ISTEP+ scores to parents on the Indiana Parent Network to give the parents the opportunity to request their child’s test to be re-scored.

Parents with access to the Internet had the ability to request their child’s test to be re-scored. If a parent does not have access to the Internet at home, how many parents are going to take advantage of this opportunity?

I am disappointed that the IDOE does not give the schools the opportunity to request a re-score. Student growth is an important component to our school accountability grade. The IDOE calculates and establishes educational growth for every student, in grade 4 and beyond, who has taken the ISTEP+ assessments two consecutive years.

All schools should have been given the opportunity to request a re-score based on student growth. Plus, student growth should not even be a factor this year because we are not comparing students to the same standards.

It is not fair to compare the more rigorous College and Career Readiness standards to less strenuous 2013 – 2014 academic standards. Since this was the first year for assessing the College and Career Readiness standards, there should not be any growth until you complete your second year of assessing the College and Career Readiness standards.  

6. This school year is half over and we are still waiting for the Individual Student Reports to be released so we can evaluate our strengths and weaknesses and make the necessary educational adjustment to improve the quality of education for all students. There are only nine weeks of school left before the 2015 -2016 ISTEP+ assessment begins.

With no valuable information, how can we honestly expect our scores to improve when we do not know where our deficiencies lie?

7. Recently, there was an Indianapolis Star newspaper article that claims that a computer glitch could have mis-scored thousands of ISTEP+ tests. Check out this story on IndyStar.com: http://indy.st/1QE5XgO.

According to this article, seven scoring supervisors, for the testing vendor, CTB-McGraw Hill, claimed that thousands of student exams could be incorrect due to a computer malfunction which was discovered eight days after they began scoring the ISTEP+ assessments.

What is disappointing is that CTB-McGraw Hill claims that the malfunction did not affect student scores and chose not to re-score those tests. This decision from CTB-McGraw Hill, sounds like it was influenced by financial concerns and should not be accepted by the state. These allegations from the seven scoring supervisors should be investigated thoroughly.

This proves what administrators and teachers have been saying throughout the state that this system is flawed, this assessment should not count, and it is time to develop an accountability system that is going to be fair and accurate.

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These are some of my concerns regarding the 2014 – 2015 ISTEP+ assessment. I have complete faith in our school system that we are preparing students to be well educated and productive members of society and to succeed in all their future endeavors. I do not believe that these test scores show an accurate reflection of our students’ yearly achievements. Plus, these poor test scores do not reflect the hard work and dedication that teachers and administrators put in each day. Hopefully, the state legislature will create an accountability system that will truly reflect the educational growth of our students.

 

Sincerely,

Michael Jones,

Superintendent

Switzerland County School Corporation