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Tri-Town Schools head not a big fan of ISTEP

October 9, 2018

WANATAH – Ever since the state released student scores from last spring’s ISTEP+ tests, local school officials have expressed concerns and dissatisfaction with the tests and the results.

“We don’t believe these scores truly reflect the quality of learning and instruction in our schools,” Michigan City Area Schools Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins said.

“We believe that assessment and accountability are important, but know that numerous other factors go into the well-rounded education that we provide our students,” South Central Community Schools Supt. Theodore Stevens said.

And the tests “do not accurately reflect the hard work of our staff and students, nor the value of the education our students receive,” La Porte Community Schools Supt. Mark Francesconi said. “It isn’t fair to teachers and students who work hard and the test keeps changing. The results are not a fair comparison from one district or school to another...”

You can add the superintendent of the Tri-Township Consolidated School Corp. in southern La Porte County to the list of critics.

“My reaction to these scores is consistently one of frustration,” Supt. Kelly Shepherd said. “They are inconsistent, have changing criteria, and simply cause undue stress for all involved.”

The superintendent said it’s even difficult to compare scores at a school from year to year because “the tests have continually undergone changes.”

In grades 3-8 testing, Wanatah School students were above the state average in science (66.2 percent passing to 57.9) and social studies (75 percent passing to 58.6). But they were below the state average in English/language arts (45 percent passing to 64.1) and well below in math (28.6 percent passing to 58.3).

In testing of 10th graders, students at LaCrosse High School beat the state average in math (37.2 percent passing to 36.2), but lagged in English (51.2 percent passing to 58.9) and science (42.3 percent passing to 52.1).

Shepherd doesn’t think it’s a good way to measure students’ actual achievements.

“I do not feel this type of testing is a fair and accurate way to measure student success. Every single school and every teacher are going above and beyond to provide a great education. These scores are not a reflection of that effort,” he said.

He favors a different kind of testing structure.

“If some type of an assessment is going to be mandated – and it will – a formative assessment such as NWEA would at least be an improvement.”

NWEA or the Northwest Evaluation Association assessments are measures of academic progress, according to the website. When taking the computerized adaptive tests, the difficulty of each question is based on how well a student answers previous questions, so the final score is an estimate of a student’s achievement level.

Shepherd said when the state changes tests again next year, “The next iteration moves a bit closer to that (NWEA).”

That next iteration, for the elementary and middle school students, begins in the spring of 2019, when the state will change from ISTEP+ tests to the ILEARN tests. Students in grade 10 will likely continue taking ISTEP for at least three more years.

Whatever the test, Shepherd is not a big fan.

“I will always maintain that standardized testing does more harm than good,” he said. “A culture of collaboration between schools, where we work to assess each other in some manner, would benefit students and teachers a whole lot more.”

And he urges parents to keep the scores in perspective.

Parents should not be overly concerned with the test results, he said. “They should definitely keep the scores in the proper perspective.”

He said parents and teachers can help students get higher scores, but again, he questions the value.

“The question I have is this: Does increasing that particular test score make a better student, person, friend, life-long learner, citizen, and employee? Deciding what is important is a crucial decision to make. Time is too limited to use it on the wrong things.”

How Tri-Township schools fared

Numbers are percentage of students to pass ISTEP+ tests.

Grades 3-8

`ELA`Math`ELA+Math`Science`Soc. Studies

Indiana Avg.`64.1`58.3`50.7`57.9`58.6

Wanatah`45.0`28.6`25.0`66.2`75.0

Grade 10 results

`ELA`Math`ELA+Math`Science

Indiana Avg.`58.9`36.2`33.7`52.1

LaCrosse`51.2`37.2`37.2`42.3

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