With state lawmakers signaling the worst, local school superintendents are bracing for the public release this week of the scores from the new ILEARN test.

Students in the spring took the exam, a replacement for the ISTEP test that had grown overwhelmingly unpopular with lawmakers and teachers alike.

And while most educators had anticipated a drop in scores by switching to ILEARN, many said the unexpectedly large drop (school officials have had the scores for two weeks) causes them to question its reliability.

Local school superintendents say they were doing that anyway; with so little time between the ISTEP and the ILEARN, they fear the entire process was rushed.

South Knox superintendent Tim Grove said his scores should collectively be above state average, but he's heard little good news from his colleagues across the state.

“And it just goes to show that the state rushed something through that they weren't prepared to do,” he said. “Certainly, the schools weren't prepared either.”

North Knox superintendent Darrel Bobe, as per usual, was taking the scores in stride. Why compare, he asks, when you can't compere “apples to oranges?”

The ISTEP and new ILEARN are supposedly two different tests, yet the baseline that seems to have been established across the state leaves much to be desired.

As far as North Knox students go, Bobe said, yes there are “areas of concern.”

“But there are shining spots, too,” he said. “We'll just look at these, see where we fall, look at those bad areas and ask, like we always do, 'How can we do better?'”

Greg Parsley, superintendent of the Vincennes Community School Corp., said his ILEARN scores look to represent a “mixed bag.”

Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, he said, has some “strong scores,” while Francis Vigo Elementary School had some “positive areas” as well.

He was particularly worried about Vigo, he said, as students there were displaced to area churches as the school corporation undertook a major renovation and expansion of the building.

In the past, he said, the displaced students tended to perform worse on the test than their peers, although that doesn't look to be the case with the new ILEARN.

“The middle school had some positive results, too, at least in one particular grade,” he said. “But they're all over the place, really.

“So my two cents? It's no different than it's ever been, when it comes to testing and accountability,” he said. “When you have cut scores in which half of Indiana students are failing, then we have a problem. That ought to tell lawmakers something.”

The state signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the American Institutes for Research to create and implement the new test.

It was meant to be an improvement from the ISTEP. It’s computer-adaptive, meaning the test gets easier or harder depending on how students fared on previous questions. And it was administered in a single testing window so students, ideally, spent less time taking the exam and teachers spent less time prepping them for it.

Jennifer McCormick, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, issued a statement last week saying that the lower scores are due, at least in part, to the exam being more rigorous and designed to test students' college and career readiness.

Gov. Eric Holcomb is looking to keep schools and teachers from being affected by this first year of the ILEARN exam.

In a statement issued last week, the governor confirmed the results of the first test will show a decrease from the previous academic year's ISTEP test. He plans to ask McCormick to support his request that lawmakers hold schools “harmless,” meaning the results won't have an adverse affect on teacher evaluations and school's letter grades.

McCormick has said she supports the hold harmless year and that she'll pursue legislative changes to address the "negative impact on educators, schools, districts, and communities."

“That should tell you something right there,” Grove said. “They know there is a problem. And it's because everything has to be done yesterday.

“They're worried to death we're falling behind on everything, but what they're not worried about is that Indiana ranks 50th amongst states of desirable places to be a teacher.”

Bobe, for one, doesn't like the ongoing rhetoric.

Lawmakers, he said, are casting a rather negative net over the entire process — before the public even has a chance to weigh in.

“Why not be a little more enthusiastic about the changes,” he said. “I don't understand that philosophy whatsoever. If I went to a faculty meeting and tried to sell a new idea with negativity right off the bat, my faculty will look at me, within reason, and say, 'I can't get behind this.'”

Bobe, too, said he's employed a long-held teaching philosophy in dealing with this new ILEARN process.

“A lack of preparation on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine,” he said. “I'm not going to look at these scores and consider it an emergency for our schools that we have to do something different.”

Parsley said regardless of how the public perceives these test scores, he wants people to understand that — whether its ISTEP or ILEARN — one test doesn't' make the student.

“Lawmakers have a tendency to want to look at testing in that it will give a true picture of a student, but it doesn't,” Parsley said. “This isn't the first time we've been down this road.”

The Indianapolis Star contributed to this article.
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