BATESVILLE — Indiana's relentless push to improve the standardized test scores of its schoolchildren seems to be paying off: The state is reporting another year of record-breaking scores.
At a press conference this Tuesday morning, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said 71 percent of the nearly 500,000 students who took the ISTEP+ test in the spring passed both the math and English/language portions of the test.
That's a gain of one percentage point over last year and 8 percentage points since the 2008-09 school year. It's also the third successive year that students' passing rates have gone up on every portion of the test, which is administered to students in grades 3 to 8.
The 71 percent mark falls far short of the goal of a 90 percent pass rate that Bennett has been pushing for since he took office in 2005, but it didn't seem to dampen his enthusiasm.
"Hoosiers from all walks of life should greet this news with a standing ovation," Bennett said in a statement accompanying the release of the test scores. "More students are getting a world class education in our schools."
Bennett credited "Indiana's great teachers" for educating "a new generation of leaders and innovators who will build a more prosperous future for our state."
Those teachers are watching the test scores with some wariness. Under a "merit pay" law passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2010, the test scores of their students now play a role in how those teachers are evaluated and paid.
The ISTEP test scores are also a critical component of the Indiana Department of Education's accountability model, which assigns schools and school districts grades of A through F.
Scores matter, but under the "growth model" used to evaluate both teacher pay and school grades, progress does, too. As critical as the the number of students who pass ISTEP is whether scores are improving from year to year.
There is still a sizable achievement gap for students considered most at-risk for dropping out of school: Statewide, only 47 percent of students who don't speak English as their native tongue - and are classified as English language learners - passed both the math and English/language arts portion of the test. Only 59 percent of students who come from low-income families - who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices - passed both the key portions of the test.
Still, both those passing rates are better than years past. In the 2008-09 school year, only 34 percent of students who were English language learners passed both the key portions of ISTEP+; and only 48 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch passed both the math and English/language arts portions of the test that year.
The passing rates for Hispanic students, black students and those classified as "special education" students have also been steadily climbing but still fall behind the pass rates for students who are white, who don't have special needs and whose families aren't living in poverty.
High school students no longer take the ISTEP tests, but they do take "end of course assessments" in English, algebra and biology after completing instruction in those subjects.
If they don't pass English and math ECAs, they must a obtain a waiver from their schools to graduate. To earn a waiver, seniors who haven't passed the ECA in math or English must show they had 95 percent attendance and had a C average in that subject. If they took the test every time it was offered, completed extra help sessions offered a school and earned a recommendation from a teacher and the principal, they may still graduate.
ISTEP+, which stands for Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational ISTEP+Progress Plus, is given each spring to students in grades 3 through 8. Before 2009, the test was administered in the fall of each school year.
More than 329,000 students, about 66 percent of test-takers, took the multiple choice portions of the test online. That's a big jump up from 2010, when only about 15,000 students took the test online.
All students are tested in reading and math, while science also is tested in grades 4 and 6 and social studies knowledge is tested in grades 5 and 7.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com
LOCAL SCHOOLS AMONG STATE’S BEST
The Batesville Community School Corp. officials had to be quite pleased when the Indiana Department of Education released the scores from the statewide ISTEP+ testing.
The scores reported by the state on Tuesday indicated BCSC students (grades three through eight) ranked fourth in the state for the percentage of students passing both the Math and English/Language Arts portions of the test, according to superintendent Jim Roberts.
The corporation’s 89.1 percent trailed only West Lafayette (92.8), Carmel Clay (92.6) and Zionsville (91.3), according to IDOE figures.
Batesville was second in the math portion with a 95.8 percent pass rate and tied for eighth in English/Language Arts.
By grade, the Batesville Middle School seventh grade ranked first in the state with a 97.7 percent pass rate in math, according to Roberts.
“Batesville administrators, teachers, parents and students can all be very proud of achieving some of the highest ISTEP+ pass rates in the state. That’s reason enough to celebrate,” State Sen. Jean Leising commented. “But it’s important to recognize that smaller rural schools can make noteworthy accomplishments — especially when the top three public school achievers in Indiana are larger city corporations that often receive more attention for their scores.”
Due to a shipping error when the tests were completed, the bulk of the St. Louis tests still need to be graded. The results will not be available for another week or so, according to principal Chad Moeller.