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Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant top local districts

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Third-graders enter a computer lab to take the ISTEP at Northwood Elementary School in Franklin. The school delayed ISTEP by a week because students across the state were being interrupted by problems with the test site.
Third-graders enter a computer lab to take the ISTEP at Northwood Elementary School in Franklin. The school delayed ISTEP by a week because students across the state were being interrupted by problems with the test site.

The latest statewide test scores show students at most local schools are mastering math and English lessons at a higher rate than their peers across Indiana.

Between 72 percent and 84 percent of the third- through eighth-graders from Johnson County’s six public school districts passed both the English and math sections of ISTEP when they took the exam last spring. Indiana requires students to take the exam at the end of each school year, so they can show how much they learned.

The Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant school districts tied for the highest local ISTEP passing rates. Eighty-eight percent of the students from those districts passed the English exam, 91 percent passed the math exam, and 84 percent passed both sections, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Across Indiana, 81 percent of students passed the English test, 84 percent passed math, and 75 percent passed both. Students at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Franklin, Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson had higher passing rates than the state average in all three areas. Edinburgh’s passing rates were below Indiana’s in each section, according to the department of education.

Locally, teachers use ISTEP scores to measure how well students understand the math and language arts skills they’ve been taught. If students don’t pass or come close to failing, the school can provide extra help for them during the school year, the following school year and during the summer. The results also are factored into teachers’ annual performance evaluations and to assess Indiana’s schools with a letter grade.

Several local schools had significant increases in the rates of students passing ISTEP, including Whiteland Elementary, Needham Elementary and Northeast Elementary. Students at those three schools improved their passing rates on one or both sections of ISTEP by at least 10 percentage points, according to the data.

At Northeast Elementary, the rate of students passing the English and math portions of ISTEP had been close to 75 percent since 2011, and about 65 percent of students had been passing both sections of the exam.

In 2014, 88 percent of Northeast Elementary’s students passed English, 85 percent passed math, and 78 percent of students passed both sections.

Principal Amy Sander’s first priority for the school last year was to bolster students’ writing skills. All Northeast teachers went through training on both the kinds of skills students needed to master and the best way to teach those skills to kids.

Sander also rearranged which teachers were teaching which grades last school year, moving a total of 12 teachers.

Different teachers have different skills, meaning some have an easier time developing students’ reading and writing skills, while others are stronger with math. Reorganizing who taught what helped ensure that all of Northeast’s students got the help they needed as they developed their language arts, math and other skills.

“Just really getting the right people in the right seats so they can really encourage the best to come out with each other,” Sander said.

Students will likely take ISTEP once more in the spring, but it will be a different kind of test, which is still being created. School officials worry fewer students will pass the new exam when they take it at the end of the school year.

Indiana is required to start assessing students’ college and career readiness this spring, and new education standards were approved earlier this year. School officials don’t know what will be on the new test yet but expect the test will ask students more in-depth math and English questions than they’ve seen before. That could mean scores across the state will drop, Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

“There’s no doubt. We anticipate statewide that scores will drop,” Rains said. “There’s no longer the ISTEP test of old.”

Schools have started to receive example questions that could appear on next spring’s ISTEP, and they should receive additional questions and details about what the new test will look like later this fall, Rains said. Along with the test, schools also are waiting to hear from the state how the new test will be used to evaluate schools, Rains said.

“There’s a lot still left to be communicated,” he said.

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