The county’s two smallest school districts showed some of the biggest gains in statewide testing last school year.

And while school officials said they are proud of those accomplishments, they also say ISTEP scores are just a part of what they use to measure how much students are learning and where they are falling behind. Other assessments students take periodically throughout the year are a better measure that allows schools to immediately make changes to best help students, school officials said.

Still, the data does reflect the work schools have done to help students in specific areas, such as math, and where more work can be done, school officials said.

This school year will be the last time schools take the ISTEP exam. A new test is being created for students to take next school year.

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In the past two years, local school officials have repeatedly criticized the ISTEP exam, which went through significant changes. Scores have changed dramatically from just a few years ago, when most schools had passing rates well above 80 percent. And often, the results have been delayed.

The most recently released scores, which come from tests students took in the spring, show that most school districts across the county made slight gains or stayed nearly the same.

Edinburgh schools had a 5 percentage point increase in their English passing rate from the year before, which has been a strong area for the school district in the past, Eastside Elementary School Principal Andrew Scholl said. He is especially pleased with the elementary school’s four-point gain in math scores, he said.

Math has been a focus at the elementary school for three years, with online and blended learning classes focused on improving math skills for all students, especially after school officials noticed students in higher grades struggling with math, he said.

English has been a bigger focus at Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools, where the overall English passing rate jumped by 5 percentage points since last year and third-graders had the highest passing rate in the county at 85 percent, Superintendent Tim Edsell said. That progress shows that the school district is on track with its curriculum and assessments, he said.

What’s next

Officials use ISTEP data when setting school improvement plans and where to focus their instruction, such as by seeing how students overall scored on vocabulary or writing. But other, more routine assessments allow school officials and teachers to immediately find out which students are struggling so they can offer them extra help, instead of waiting months for scores to come back, Edsell said.

Franklin school officials will spend time digging into the ISTEP data to try to understand a 4 percentage point drop in the passing rate on the math exam overall, but the test isn’t the main piece of information officials use, Superintendent David Clendening said.

The test has changed so much in recent years, the scores are questionable, Clendening said.

“We don’t hold the ISTEP up as the end-all test,” he said.

“It really is just one data point.”

Other assessments are needed for officials and teachers to be able to evaluate if a student needs a different type of instruction, for example, when they are struggling, while also finding ways to challenge students who are already mastering the lessons, Center Grove assistant superintendent Jack Parker said.

“It’s all about helping all students grow their potential,” Parker said.

Greenwood schools, which had slight drops overall in its passing rates, will celebrate accomplishments and study areas where the numbers fell short through the ISTEP scores, but will then use other assessments to get to the root of the problem and find a solution, said Lisa Harkness, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Data still to come

One piece of data they are anticipating are the answers to the open-ended questions on the ISTEP exam, which have not been released yet, she said. By looking through students’ answers, officials and teachers can get a better idea of what students understand and don’t by seeing how they explained their answers on that section of the test, she said.

Then, they can look for areas where they can improve, such as in curriculum planning or instruction on certain areas, she said.

The goal is to look for trends, which can show an overall issue, and then officials can figure out how to address it, she said.

For Clark-Pleasant schools, this year’s scores show they are making steady progress toward improvement, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said. In the last two years, the percentage of students passing the math section and both sections has increased 2 percentage points, while the state average has dropped, he said.

“That is slow and steady progress, which is what we want to see,” Rains said.

The data is helpful from a big picture perspective, but officials use other assessments for focusing on individual students, he said. And ISTEP results typically mirror how students are doing on the assessments done more frequently throughout the school year, so the results from the statewide test are rarely a surprise, he said.

The bigger concern is how the public views the ISTEP data and the other measurements that come from those scores, such as A-F grades assigned to schools that are set to come out later this fall. The scores aren’t comparable to what schools were doing just a few years ago, since the test has changed, and the data used for school grades is constantly changing, he said.

And everything is about to change again with the new version of the ISTEP exam next school year, Rains said.

“The hardest thing is helping people understand, some parts are comparable and others are not,” Rains said.

“We would prefer for the system to settle and be left alone for a while.”

School officials said they are preparing for this year’s ISTEP and next year’s future test the same way they would any other time — by focusing on instruction and curriculum meeting state standards.

At Center Grove, that has been a focus for more than a year, where teachers and administrators have been working on building a curriculum that will help all eight schools work better together, Parker said.

That work has also been done at Greenwood schools, where officials made sure each of the four elementary schools were all mastering the same standards in each nine-week period, Harkness said.

By the numbers

Here is a look at the percentage of students that passed ISTEP at local school districts last school year:

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SOURCE: Indiana Department of Education

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2718.