Scores out, but schools aren’t drawing many conclusions

Students at four out of six Brown County schools scored higher than the state average on last school year’s ISTEP test.

However, local school leaders are trying to understand what they can glean from the test results, received more than seven months after the test was given to students.

“Data has to be timely in order for it to be useful,” said Debbie Harman, director of student learning for Brown County Schools. “It just loses relevance for us. It ends up being a retrospective look, which is somewhat helpful when you’re looking at curriculum, but not really helpful when you’re looking at student performance.”

The ISTEP test itself is also on its way out. Students will take ISTEP for the last time this spring, and state lawmakers are still working to determine what kind of assessment will replace it.

Scores said

For the 2015-16 school year, the school with the highest passing rate in Brown County for both the math and English/language arts tests was Sprunica Elementary, at 65.7 percent.

Statewide, an average of 51.6 percent of third- through eighth-graders passed both tests.

Van Buren Elementary School had 61.4 percent of students pass. At Helmsburg Elementary School, 53.3 percent of students did.

Also scoring above the state average was Brown County Intermediate School, with 62.6 percent of fifth- and sixth-graders passing both tests.

Brown County Junior High School and Brown County High School scored below the state average.

Forty-five percent of seventh- and eighth-graders passed both tests, compared to the state average of 51.6 percent.

This was the first year sophomores at Brown County High School took the math, science and English/language arts ISTEP tests, Principal Shane Killinger said.

The school’s passing rate for both the English and math tests was 28.2 percent, compared to 32.2 percent statewide.

“How can Brown County High School have been in the top 10 in the state for passing the ECA (end-of-course assessment) exam, but have now done so poorly on the ISTEP test?” Killinger said. “It just doesn’t make sense.

“It’s a flawed test, flawed system. It’s very disappointing, the system that we’re under.”

Harman said that some high school students were probably jaded about testing once ISTEP time rolled around second semester. By that time, some of the 10th-graders had already taken their PSATs, AP exams and other standardized assessments.

“There comes a point of no return. (There’s) a level of investment that’s hard to convince kids to have,” Harman said.

“These kids have been raised with all of the ISTEP problems. They are the kids that in grade seven had all of the technical issues. … They’re just kind of over it.”

For some students, ISTEP was also more difficult than other assessments, like the Algebra I end-of-course assessment required to graduate, Harman said.

“When a student asks, ‘If I don’t pass this (ISTEP), am I not going to graduate?’ we said, ‘No, this is not for graduation.’ We had to tell them the truth,” she said.

Despite issues with timing for testing and results, Harman said there is still value to the test results.

“I think that, overall, we can step back and take a look at where our strengths and weaknesses lie in comparison to a couple of different benchmarks,” she said.

Since this version of ISTEP was not the version students were given in the past, those benchmarks include comparing local results to state averages and to schools with similar demographics and students with similar backgrounds. Administrators also can look at the top-performing schools to see if they are offering things that Brown County Schools can also offer, Harman said.

“There is some value in the process. … It’s just this isn’t the most timely time. We’re rolling already. It would be much more beneficial to get these results right at the end of the school year,” she said.

Looking ahead

ISTEP will be administered for the last time this spring. Lawmakers on the committee responsible for determining a replacement for the exam are expected to have a 2018 replacement test by Dec. 1.

Brown County students took the ISTEP over 2015-16 school year material in March and April 2016.

Harman said an ideal replacement for ISTEP would be administered in smaller, periodic “interim assessments” throughout the school year.

Interim assessments are given while students are still learning that school year’s material, and the results are used to shape instruction as the year goes on. “Then we get results back immediately and look and see what it is that students are understanding and what they’re not understanding,” she said.

Harman said if the state is looking to continue with a summative — or whole-year — assessment of students, the ideal replacement for ISTEP would be given at the end of the school year.

“As long as the items match what the standards are asking our kids to do, then it’s an acceptable test. What’s unacceptable is the timeline for giving us results (and) the length of time taken to administer it. All the uncertainty that has surrounded is what makes it just unpalatable,” Harman said.

“Let’s only assess those standards that are most meaningful. We need to pay attention to the length of the test, the types of items that kids are being asked to respond to need to be varied and our results need to be timely.”