Failure rates expected to jump on latest ISTEP scores

Last year, students took a new ISTEP written to Indiana’s new tougher educational standards.
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Eight months after Indiana school children started taking the ISTEP exams, the Indiana Board of Education finally decided on the scores determining who passed and who failed. Schools and parents are in for some alarming surprises.

The surprises are not good. Failure rates for students and entire schools are expected to take a big jump.

Last year, students took a new ISTEP written to Indiana’s new tougher educational standards.

That required the board to set new pass/fail scores.  According to the Indiana Department of Education, failure rates in language arts are predicted to jump 16 percentage points. The failure rate on the math exams is likely even higher at 24 percentage points.

Related: Questions arise over fairness of ISTEP tests

Last year, more than half of Indiana’s schools received A grades based primarily on their ISTEP scores. As a result of this year’s higher failure rates, more than half of the schools are expected to get Ds and Fs.

Gov. Mike Pence and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz want legislation protecting schools and teachers from being punished and held accountable for the failing grades.

Related: Lawmakers look for replacement for lengthy ISTEP tests

Teacher’s raises are based in part on their students’ ISTEP scores. Failing grades for schools can affect enrollment, a community’s image and even property values.

"We want to get a fair representation to how schools perform," Ritz explained. "Not put a representation out there that represents really a more rigorous assessment and a whole new way of looking assessment."

The ISTEP exam was plagued with problems. Results that should have been in teachers' hands months ago won’t get there until December. 

Wayne Township School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Butts and others insist the test scores are too late to do them any good.

"There is a total lack of confidence, first of all, of what these results are going to give us," Butts explained. "Secondly, we are 11 weeks into the school year.  We’ve already begun to address the issues without students."

The State Board of Education has at least one more ISTEP issue to deal with. Independent experts determined the paper and pencil math exams were "slightly but significantly" easier than the on line versions 67% of students took. 

Next week, board is scheduled to vote on a proposal giving those students additional points to compensate them for taking a harder exam.