The Journal Gazette
Monday, August 26, 2019 9:55 am

Officials warn new ILEARN tests will show lower scores

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's latest standardized testing scores haven't even been made public yet, but state officials are calling for schools and teachers to be held harmless from expected drops in passing rates. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb said the results of the 2018-19 ILEARN test “will show a decrease compared to the previously administered ISTEP+ test. Since this is the first year of the ILEARN assessment, I will ask Superintendent (Jennifer) McCormick to support my request that the General Assembly take action to hold schools harmless so the test scores do not have an adverse impact on teacher evaluations and schools' letter grades for the 2018-19 school year. 

“This action will ease the transition to ILEARN, which is a student assessment that allows Indiana to comply with federal requirements.” 

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick last week sent a notice to schools saying she would fight for legislative action addressing the negative impact of the test scores on teachers, schools and districts. 

“During the past two weeks, districts and schools received embargoed ILEARN scores. When compared to past ISTEP+ scores, the scores for Indiana's new assessment, ILEARN, indicated lower achievement levels across the state in both English/language arts and mathematics,” she said. “The combination of the rigors associated with this newly aligned college and career readiness assessment, national normative data, and the defined established performance cuts all contributed to the lower performance levels. While frustrating, performance dips at some level were expected.” 

ILEARN is the new standardized test put in to replace the much-maligned ISTEP. It was administered for the first time this spring to all students in grades 3-8. 

Test scores are the overwhelming factor in assigning A-F accountability grades to schools, and also teacher evaluations. Prolonged failing grades can lead to state takeover of a school. 

House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray immediately released statements supporting the one-year pause in accountability. 

“As the state recently transitioned from ISTEP to ILEARN, we understood scores would be lower since students and schools needed time to adjust to the new exam,” Bosma said. “I agree with Governor Holcomb's call to hold harmless our hard-working teachers and schools during this critical transition year. We will work closely with our House and Senate colleagues, and the governor to continue supporting Hoosier students, teachers and schools.” 

Lawmakers will have to pass legislation early in 2020 that will be retroactive to the new scores. 

This last happened in 2015 when steep drops on the test caused a one-year pause. At that time, the state moved to new college-and-career-ready academic standards. 

Under legislation then, a school's grade could go up but not down. If the calculation was for a lower grade, the school would receive its previous year's grade. 

ILEARN is a computer-adaptive assessment, which means every time a student answers a question, his or her response helps determine the next question asked. The difficulty of the test adjusts to students' skills, providing a better measure of what each student knows and can do, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

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