Evansville teachers take failing ILEARN scores with a grain of salt

Local News

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Indiana students have failed the latest rounds of standardized tests – if you believe the results.

ILEARN scores are down dramatically from last year’s standardized test, and school leaders are digging deep asking why. The state won’t hold teachers responsible this year, but some local officials say it is only a band-aid fix.

Buried in thousands of points of data, across spreadsheets of schools, corporations, demographics, and grade levels, are test results, even veteran school officials didn’t see coming.

“I think everybody sort of took a deep breath, because we all were anticipating scores would look a little bit better than they did,” said Catherine Minihan, head of accountability for Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation.

The new ILEARN exam has raised the bar for students from the old ISTEP test, but fewer than half of Indiana students who took the ILEARN last school year are proficient in four core subjects, according to results.

EVSC leadership takes the new data with a grain of salt.

“We keep changing the finish line and we keep changing the goals that we’re shooting for students,” said Minihan.

The numbers show EVSC kids tested below an already low state average in math, English, science, and social studies.

“Does it mean students in Indiana all of the sudden lost a whole lot of learning from last year to this year? Probably not,” explained Minihan.

“It’s not like teachers stopped teaching and kids stopped engaging in classroom instruction.”

Compared to EVSC, Warrick County students scored much higher.

Statewide results are down more than 10 percent from last year’s passing ISTEP grades. Across Indiana, only 45 of 17,000 schools saw an increase in scores.

Minihan says the state hasn’t provided insight into specific causes for the drastic drop.

You can see raw data from the Indiana Department of Education.

The State Board of Education voted Wednesday to hold back assigning letter grades to schools based on the data. Those letter grades can influence teacher pay.

This is the second time in the last four years the state has passed a “hold harmless” resolution.

On the ground level, EVSC isn’t discouraged by the data. Compared to peer groups across the state from similar sized cities, officials say their students are improving.

Jason Woebkenberg, spokesperson for EVSC, says schools take the positives and try to grow. “What did we do? Can we mimic that? Can we use those same strategies in other areas?”

EVSC uses local surveys and more regular standardized tests can fill gaps between ILEARN and reality.

“We’re committed to the coaching model where we look at the data, we provide the support to each school based on what they need,” Woebkenberg said.

Minihan and Woebkenberg say EVSC teachers want a reliable test, but officials wait for consistency from state leaders to deliver better results.

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This story was originally published on September 4, 2019

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