ISTEP scores improve despite glitches

2013-09-18T12:00:00Z 2013-09-19T16:48:18Z ISTEP scores improve despite glitchesCarmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

Despite computer glitches and online delays during the 2013 ISTEP+ test, the data indicates test scores continued to improve.

The standardized test for English/language arts and math is administered to children in grades three through eight throughout the state. The Indiana Department of Education released the scores Wednesday, showing that 79.5 percent of Hoosier students passed the English/language arts portion of the test and 82.7 percent passed math, up from 79.4 percent for English/language arts and 81.2 percent for math in 2012. Overall, 73.5 percent of students passed both sections.

Though the School Town of Munster is pleased with the scores, it still submitted questions to IDOE regarding individual test scores where students were affected by the technical errors, said Phyllis Gilworth, director of instructional programs and assessments.

"We are asking for the state to verify how they are being counted," Gilworth said Wednesday morning.

"Our scores were high, and they were pretty consistent with how students normally score. But the testing problems were a mess. Even kids who didn't have an issue on their testing station had problems if someone around them was having an issue. The whole thing was pretty inexcusable. I have a concern about the reliability and validity. It's all political. There's a boatload of money spent on this test."

A report found about 80,000 students in third through eighth grade had at least one part of the computerized test interrupted last spring when server troubles from the state contractor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, kicked them offline. That's about 16 percent of all students who took the test. An independent testing expert hired by the state determined the interruptions had little effect on the scores.

Cheryl Pruitt, Gary Community School Corp.'s superintendent, said it's her understanding that because of the glitches during the test, it won't count for accountability and may not be used to evaluate teachers.

"We had a slight increase, but I'd like to see that increase closer to 10 percent," Pruitt said. "We're still looking at the test. We've put new technology in place, both for infrastructure and hardware. We are more equipped, and our students are more equipped to navigate through the test."

Sean Egan, principal at the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, said the charter school's composite score increased by 5 percent. The school's sixth grade had a 75 percent passing rate for both English/language arts and math. The seventh grade had a passing rate of 65.8 percent on both portions of the test, while the eighth grade had a passing rate of 54.5 percent on both exams.

"We had increases in nearly every category," Egan said. "We have focused instruction and small-group instruction. Students who needed intense remediation were put into a group, and they received instruction daily for 20 to 30 minutes on specific skills. As a school of science and technology, it's no surprise that we used testing software throughout the year to help us identify children's needs. We are not surprised by the increases, and we expect them to increase."

John Hunter, Union Township School Corp.'s superintendent, said students did well.

"By and large, we were concerned about how our students would do with the glitches, but it doesn't seem to have affected us too much one way or another," he said.

"We are pleased that 100 percent of our third-graders passed the test in English/language arts. Simatovich (Elementary School) had great improvement this year over last year. We improved at Union Center and at Union Township Middle School in many areas. We are looking at the areas in which we didn't see great improvement to see what we need to do to help those students perform better. ... For example, we're looking at our instruction in math at fourth grade. We're looking at sixth-grade English/language arts at the middle school."

Glenda Ritz, Indiana's superintendent of public instruction, acknowledged the efforts of teachers, parents and students, saying, "Despite considerable difficulties, our students improved their overall performance yet again, and deserve our congratulations."

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