ILearn testing underway as schools nervously wait results

NOW: ILearn testing underway as schools nervously wait results

BREMEN/GOSHEN, Ind. - All 3rd through 8th graders in Indiana have to take the ILEARN standardized test annually. The test was paused last year because of the pandemic and this year, schools were ready to skip it again.

The biggest thing for educators is that Indiana has switched up its standardized test at least 3 times in the last 10 years. And the newest version, ILEARN, left many schools with bad grades the first year of being taken in 2019 - right before the pandemic.

Starting Monday, Hoosier students in 3rd through 8th grade began their standardized testing.

"This week is a kickoff to the of the ILEARN testing window," Jim White, the Superintendent at Bremen Community Schools said.

This comes after a year-long break where the test was skipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Because we would have tested in April, May, and I think everyone was made to stay at home," Jessica Klingerman, a 7th grade math teacher in Bremen said.

The time lost, only adding to a challenge schools are already facing.

“I think that the biggest controversy for us here at Goshen is the constant changing of the assessments themselves and then the constant changing of the standards that we've been using," Tracey Noe, the Executive Director of Curriculum Instruction and Assessment at Goshen Community Schools said.

The ILEARN test is one of many tests the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) has used over the last ten years.

“I believe they were doing ISTEP, and they went to ISTEP plus and then ILEARN," Klingerman said.

"You know, I often can forget what the name of the test is," White said.

"When ISTEP plus ended, everyone was so excited. Because they're like, it's done. It's over. And there's always something else that comes. And the problem with that is you just never know if it's gonna be better or worse," Klingerman said.

And results released in 2019... were troubling.

Tana: When a lot of districts, including I'm sure this one, got those first ILEARN results back and they weren't, you know, as positive...

"No, you want to cry. I want to run away hide and cry and quit your job because you felt like you were a complete, utter failure. Like, it was awful," Klingerman said.

Statewide they were down more than 10 percentage points from ISTEP to ILEARN. In Goshen, the difference is less at 7 percentage points.

"Even though the results may have been different than what we anticipated or expected it still gave us a place of, okay, where do we go from here," Noe said.

"Concerns about the standardized testing come down to getting a letter grade, there are many who talk about, you know, is this fair, we all serve different populations, you know, whether you know what you have some have higher free and reduced lunch, some have lower,," White said.

A bad letter grade can mean many things.

First - the IDOE may step in.

"It's a process. And so there's no state and local leaders work together to improve the performance of the school," Holly Lawson, the Deputy Director of Communications for the IDOE said.

And second - it could impact school funding.

"You're trying to select a school,” White said. "You're going to judge that school's performance, largely based on a one-time examination that's given in spring. And that's not the end all be all of what that school is doing.”

And when the test changes...

"We really get used, think we had the nuances of you know, okay, kids are ready for it, test changes, score cuts are dramatically increased," he said. "It's a gut punch when some of those scores come back, not where they'd like them to be. And then the students get fatigued.”

So when schools were notified that this year ILEARN wouldn’t be skipped. This was the reaction:

"Giving them a test under these trying conditions, was a little harsh," Noe said. “We know we have had an attendance issue with kids on quarantine or kids sick or their parents sick and then they have to stay home because their parents are sick and, and all of that affects the results of our students. Are we doing as most justice as we can for what the kids are learning this year?”

Superintendents from several local school districts, even writing to the state that something needs to be done.

"Some superintendents really didn't want to take the time to assess because they felt the results would be invalid. Other districts said, well, we'll take the test just, just give us some leeway on what we, we are held accountable to," she said.

However, according to Lawson, schools won’t be penalized for any “bad grades.”

"With the status of the pandemic, the state has requested several waivers from the federal government on a few issues, we've requested a waiver from accountability requirements that are federally set. And we've also requested a waiver for the rule that requires 95% of students to participate in these assessments. So the school has to administer the tests if parents want to have their child opt-out. That is their prerogative," she said. "And then it in addition to that we're working with the general assembly this year to make sure that schools are held are held harmless, and do not face any negative consequences as a result of this year's exams.”

Even with all of the hurdles, everyone is cautiously optimistic the scores this year won’t be as bad.

“I looked at our NWA scores, you know, we use that as a formative assessment to try to judge instruction to see where we need to move, you know, low stakes," White said. "And our center scores weren't what they had traditionally been. But they were very similar, very close. And so that gives me hope that across the board.”

"We're focusing on the curriculum, we're focusing on what we're doing. We've done the practice test we went through and we use all the tools," Klingerman said. “I'm hoping to see growth, I'm hoping to know is that we're not as far behind as we thought we were.”

White said he is currently participating in a study at Ball State University study comparing standardized tests of students who did in-person, remote, and hybrid learning this year to compare.

It should be interesting when that data comes out. Of course stick with abc57 to hear those results.

Any questions? Reach out to our education team at [email protected].

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