The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 15, 2021 1:00 am

ILEARN sees proficiency fall

Leaders point to pandemic's effect

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Less than 30% of Indiana students in grades 3 through 8 are proficient in English language arts and math, according to standardized test results released Wednesday.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner cautioned judgment of ILEARN scores showing 40.5% proficiency in English, 37% proficiency in math and 29% proficiency in both subjects.

“This data cannot be an indictment on anyone, on anything, on any school,” Jenner said. “The reality is all of us had a global pandemic.”

In 2019 – the last year ILEARN was administered – about 47.9% of students were deemed proficient in English and 47.8% in math. Just 37.1% passed both.

The exam wasn't given in 2020 because of pandemic-related school closures and a federally granted waiver. The Indiana Department of Education said 2021 scores should not be compared to 2019 scores because of variables in instruction from COVID-19 and the disruption of 2020 assessments.

“This data establishes a new baseline for us as a state,” Jenner said. “These are not problems that anyone can fix overnight. This is going to take an extended effort just to get us back to where we were.”

That didn't stop the comparisons, however.

“I don't think that anybody was particularly surprised that (scores) went down in most cases,” said Krista Stockman, spokeswoman for Fort Wayne Community Schools.

About 40 northern Indiana school district superintendents, including Mark Daniel of FWCS, unsuccessfully asked the state to hit pause on spring ILEARN testing because of the challenges faced during the pandemic.

The legislature passed a law holding schools harmless for the results in anticipation of scores affected by “extremely challenging events and extenuating circumstances,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said.

Along with testing several grades in math and English, the assessment tested grades 4 and 6 in science, grade 5 in social studies and high schoolers in U.S. government and biology.

In Allen County, districtwide totals for proficiency in both English and math ranged from 15% in FWCS to 39% in Northwest Allen County Schools, which provided a statement saying the district is proud of its students' performance.

East Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools each scored about 30%.

In 2019, those scores ranged from 25.5% in FWCS to 47.5% in NACS, with East Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools scoring 38% and 41.6%, respectively.

FWCS' main priorities in 2020-21 were students' and employees' safety and health – both physical and mental, Stockman said. Some days, she said, that might have meant emphasizing mental health over an academic standard.

East Allen County Schools shared those health and safety priorities, according to spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly.

“The last 18 months have been an extremely difficult time for our students, staff and families due to the pandemic,” Kelly said by email. “Much of what has been taught and learned is very difficult to be measured on a test.”

Standardized tests, for instance, won't show the life-long skills – resiliency, flexibility and persistence – students learned, Stockman said.

FWCS is addressing students' needs through summer school and by hiring additional teachers for the upcoming academic year, among other efforts, Stockman said.

“We don't rely on ILEARN to tell us what our kids need,” she said.

Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.

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