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In the classroom: Local ISTEP scores go up

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More local students passed the ISTEP this year, relieving some of the concerns local school officials had raised about the accuracy of the scores.

Students passed both the English and math sections of ISTEP at a higher rate at 17 of Johnson County’s 29 public schools. Students’ overall passing rates increased for four school districts — Clark-Pleasant, Edinburgh, Franklin and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson — while the percentage of Center Grove students who passed held steady. The passing rate for students fell slightly at Greenwood, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Some of the county’s biggest improvement came from elementary schools in Franklin. Webb Elementary School’s passing rate on both exams jumped 10 percentage points from last year, and Creekside Elementary School’s passing rate for both tests was up 9 percentage points. Those are the highest scores for both elementary schools since before 2011, according to the department of education data.

All six public school districts had higher passing rates for the math and English sections of ISTEP than the state rate of 74 percent. The state rate also increased 3 percentage points from 2012, according to the department of education data.

School officials across the state were concerned about the scores’ accuracy because of widespread testing disruptions that occurred during the multiple-choice portion of the exam. But school officials at Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools felt better about the scores after seeing them.

If the constant starts and stops during the test did affect the scores, chances are the passing rates wouldn’t have improved, Clark-Pleasant curriculum instruction specialist Cameron Rains said.

“I don’t see how all of the drama from the spring, and everything that happened with the interruptions, certainly that wouldn’t inflate a student’s score,” he said.

Indiana uses ISTEP to measure how well students understand the math and English lessons they’ve been taught in third through eighth grade. The results of the exam also are used by the department of education to grade schools and evaluate teachers.

About 95 percent of the more than 495,000 students who took ISTEP took the multiple-choice portion of the test online. Of those, more than 142,000 students, including about 1,700 in Johnson County, repeatedly were knocked offline or had their screens freeze during the exam. The problems happened because the servers at CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company the created and provides the exam, didn’t have enough memory to handle all of the students tested.

“Despite considerable difficulties, our students improved their overall performance yet again and deserve our congratulations,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a news release.

A review of the scores by an independent company found no indication that the overall scores were affected, though they couldn’t guarantee individual students’ scores weren’t impacted. And locally, school officials still aren’t sure how much students’ scores would have changed without the interruptions.

Webb Elementary School Principal Sandra Brown said the interruptions must have had an effect, though it’s hard to know what.

“It has to impact the students. When you’re sitting there, and you get knocked out of your program three or four times, I’m sorry, that does impact your students, one way or another,” she said.

But while most of Franklin’s teachers, principals and administrators have been skeptical of ISTEP this year, the improved results are easing some of their concerns.

“We’ll trust the state’s study that said everything is going to be fine with the scores,” Superintendent David Clendening said.

Brown, who this year is also the principal of Union Elementary School, expects her schools’ scores to vary from year to year as all students have different potentials for how well they’ll do on ISTEP or any other exam. Part of what may have helped boost Webb’s passing rates this year was additional time teachers spent working with students after school.

The Franklin school district already has an after-school program where students work with mentors to review lessons prepared by their teachers. Webb added a program last school year specifically where third- and fourth-graders worked directly with their teachers after school once a week.

All school districts regularly test students with their own in-house assessments to see how we’ll they understand what’s been taught, and Webb’s teachers used those results to see which students needed the most help, Brown said.

“Teachers just said, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” Brown said.

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