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ISTEP scores are coming tomorrow. Here’s how this year’s scores could change and why they matter.

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Although ISTEP’s run in Indiana will soon come to an end, there are still two more years of results to comb through. The latest are set to be released to the public Wednesday.

Years of testing chaos have meant that many in the state — particularly teachers, students and parents — have developed testing fatigue. Changing standards, changing tests and changing administrations have meant there’s been little consistency during a time that can be stressful for those in the classroom.

That stress isn’t unfounded, either — test scores are still the driving piece behind state and federal accountability, meaning they still factor heavily into A-F grades. If enough kids don’t pass and schools receive failing grades for four years, state officials get involved.

Below, we explain the ups and downs Indiana has seen for the past few years, as well as what we’ll be watching for in the new test results state officials will put out at Wednesday’s Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

Let’s set the scene.

This year marks the third year Indiana students have taken largely the same test as in prior years. The test was revamped for 2015 after Indiana abandoned the Common Core standards, one of the few moments of agreement between then-Gov. Mike Pence and then-state Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Confusion ensued. Teachers were met that fall with a yet-to-be-created test based on new Indiana-specific academic standards, which were designed to be much tougher.

When the 2015 test did take shape, it was projected to be nearly twice as long as its predecessor, prompting Pence to sign an executive order to shorten it. The move inflamed tensions between Pence and Ritz, and ISTEP became even more politically charged. Subsequent scoring issues and a delayed release didn’t help.

But even when we did finally get results, it wasn’t the end of the drama. Almost half of all kids who took the test failed math, English or both. Statewide, the percentage of students who passed both English and math nosedived by 22 percentage points to 53.5 percent.

Before that, Indiana students collectively hadn’t lost ground on ISTEP since 2009. Taken together, the upheaval before, during, and after the 2015 test played a big role in lawmaker’s eventual decision to scrap ISTEP altogether last year.

The 2016 test was expected to offer some redemption — the first year is always rough, experts say. But the anticipated rebound did not occur. Scores dropped for the second year in a row. While the test format and content were the same, Ritz posited that the state’s switch in vendors from CTB to Pearson could explain some of the decline.

So what’s on deck for 2017?

That’s tough to say. If we use previous years as an example, another dip isn’t out of the question. But given the relative stability of the last couple years (no new test, no new vendor), this could be the year Indiana gets its score rebound.

What we do know is the 2017 testing period went off with fewer glitches compared to prior years, although a calculator mishap could force some students to retake the test.

Ok, so it’s been a little smoother. Why does that matter?

It certainly bodes well for state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who helmed the test’s administration for the first time this past spring. She ran a campaign based on her strength as an administrator, and so far, that appears to be the case.

McCormick is also responsible for overseeing and implementing the state’s next test, which will be called ILEARN and given for the first time in 2019. If she has a good run with ISTEP, she has a better shot of ensuring the next state test can begin to recover from ISTEP’s “broken brand,” as one lawmaker put it.

It’s also the first year of testing under a new governor. While Gov. Eric Holcomb has been far less involved with education than his predecessor, as the state’s chief executive, he could get caught in the crossfire should scores tumble.

Go back to lawmakers — how are they involved?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Probably no state officials have had a more active role in shaping Indiana’s test than lawmakers, who are responsible for the many twists and turns the system as a whole has taken over the years. They wrote the laws that took us away from Common Core and its cheaper associated test, created ISTEP’s framework and allocated money to it.

And, they ultimately decided to kill it, sparking yet another bout of test development that will again disrupt what small amount of stability the last two years have wrought.

2017 results likely won’t have much bearing on legislation this session — the ILEARN bill last session took care of that. But as federal accountability rules continue shifting and Indiana looks to adjust A-F grades in the future, it’s important to remember lawmakers heavily influence not just how tests look, but how test scores are used.

Check back in with Chalkbeat tomorrow afternoon for news on the 2017 ISTEP scores. You can find all of our testing coverage here.

heads up

Tennessee will release TNReady test scores on Thursday. Here are five things to know.

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

When Tennessee unveils its latest standardized test scores on Thursday, the results won’t count for much.

Technical problems marred the return to statewide online testing this spring, prompting the passage of several emergency state laws that rendered this year’s TNReady scores mostly inconsequential. As a result, poor results can’t be used to hold students, educators, or schools accountable — for instance, firing a teacher or taking over a struggling school through the state’s Achievement School District.

But good or bad, the scores still can be useful, say teachers like Josh Rutherford, whose 11th-grade students were among those who experienced frequent online testing interruptions in April.

“There are things we can learn from the data,” said Rutherford, who teaches English at Houston County High School. “I think it would be unprofessional to simply dismiss this year’s scores.”

Heading into this week’s data dump, here are five things to know:

1. This will be the biggest single-day release of state scores since the TNReady era began three years ago.

Anyone with internet access will be able to view state- and district-level scores for math, English, and science for grades 3-12. And more scores will come later. School-by-school data will be released publicly in a few weeks. In addition, Tennessee will unveil the results of its new social studies test this fall after setting the thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level.

2. Still, this year’s results are anticlimactic.

There are two major reasons. First, many educators and parents question the scores’ reliability due to days of online testing headaches. They also worry that high school students stopped trying after legislators stepped in to say the scores don’t necessarily have to count in final grades. Second, because the scores won’t carry their intended weight, the stakes are lower this year. For instance, teachers have the option of nullifying their evaluation scores. And the state also won’t give each school an A-F grade this fall as originally planned. TNReady scores were supposed to be incorporated into both of those accountability measures.

3. The state is looking into the reliability of the online test scores.

In addition to an internal review by the Education Department, the state commissioned an independent analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization. Researchers for the Virginia-based technical group studied the impact of Tennessee’s online interruptions by looking into testing irregularity reports filed in schools and by scrutinizing variances from year to year and school to school, among other things.

4. The reliability of paper-and-pencil test scores are not in question.

Only about half of Tennessee’s 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested on computers. The other half — in grades 3-5 and many students in grades 6-8 — took the exams the old-fashioned way. Though there were some complaints related to paper testing too, state officials say they’re confident about those results. Even so, the Legislature made no distinction between the online and paper administrations of TNReady when they ordered that scores only count if they benefit students, teachers, and schools.

5. Ultimately, districts and school communities will decide how to use this year’s data.

Even within the same district, it wasn’t uncommon for one school to experience online problems and another to enjoy a much smoother testing experience. “Every district was impacted differently,” said Dale Lynch, executive director of the state superintendents organization. “It’s up to the local district to look at the data and make decisions based on those local experiences.”

District leaders have been reviewing the embargoed scores for several weeks, and they’ll share them with teachers in the days and weeks ahead. As for families, parents can ask to see their students’ individual score reports so they can learn from this year’s results, too. Districts distribute those reports in different ways, but they’re fair game beginning Thursday. You can learn more here.

Sharing Stories

Tell us your stories about children with special needs in Detroit

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Parents of students with special needs face difficult challenges when trying to get services for their children. Understanding their children’s rights, getting them evaluated and properly diagnosed, and creating an educational plan are among the many issues families face.

Chalkbeat Detroit wants to hear more about those issues to help inform our coverage. We are kicking off a series of conversations called a “listening tour” to discuss your concerns, and our first meeting will focus on children with special needs and disabilities. We’re partnering with the Detroit Parent Network as they look for solutions and better ways to support parents.

Our listening tour, combined with similar events in other communities Chalkbeat serves, will continue throughout this year on a variety of topics. In these meetings, we’ll look to readers, parents, educators, and students to help us know what questions we should ask, and we’ll publish stories from people who feel comfortable having their stories told. We hope you’ll share your stories and explore solutions to the challenges parents face.

Our special education listening tour discussion will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday July 24, at the Detroit Parent Network headquarters, 726 Lothrop St., Detroit.

As our series continues, we’ll meet at locations around the city to hear stories and experiences parents have while navigating the complexities of getting children the education and services they deserve.

Next week’s event includes a panel discussion with parents of children with special needs, responses from parent advocates, and an open discussion with audience members.

Those who are uncomfortable sharing stories publicly will have a chance to tell a personal story on an audio recorder in a private room, or will be interviewed by a Chalkbeat Detroit reporter privately.

The event is free and open to anyone who wants to attend, but reservations are required because space is limited. To register, complete this form, call 313-309-8100 or email frontdesk@detroitparentnetwork.org.

If you can’t make our event, but have a story to share, send an email to tips.detroit@chalkbeat.org, or call or send a text message to 313-404-0692.

Stayed tuned for more information about listening tour stops, topics and locations.