Letter to Gov., Legislators Regarding ISTEP Accountability

To Governor Pence and Members of the General Assembly:

We are writing to urge that you take action to avoid the ramifications of the ISTEP accountability measures now in place for last spring’s tests. The results of this test must be used as a baseline for future tests, and not for accountability purposes.  In February 2015, we urged the same.

Here’s why:

Every state that has given this type of college and career readiness assessment has seen a dramatic decline in pass rates. This is what we informed you of in our February letter last school year.  These declines are not because students aren’t learning, nor because schools are not teaching what they should be – but because this ISTEP is like the previous ISTEP in name only. This is a different test, meant to measure new, more rigorous college and career readiness standards. It is also a different kind of test -- some taken online/some paper-pencil -- with questions that students have to answer through the use of technology and questions that require multiple steps to answer. 

After the 200,000 requests for rescores take place, the passing cutscores that were set by the State Board of Education will be used with the old accountability model to set school grades. State figures indicate that nearly 30% of schools in Indiana this year will be “graded” as a D or F. This is unacceptable and is not an accurate look at the success of Indiana’s schools.

What’s at stake:

Children’s and parents’ confidence and anxiety levels. We had children who became physically ill last year when taking the test. We had parents last week who were dismayed when they only had a five-day window for rescores, and wanted to understand what the scores meant and why they had declined, and some who even thought the declines in their child’s pass rate might mean they should hold their child back.  These scores give our families an inaccurate assessment of their child’s educational success and of the integrity of their schools, when compared with previous year’s results.  Confusion reigns and there is a general misunderstanding of the academic progress of students because of these pass rate declines: all because of a new test that we knew would have lower pass rates and of which the state did nothing to inform families.

Teacher evaluations and pay. In the EVSC, teachers are only eligible for an increase in pay, if they receive an effective or highly effective evaluation. Part of their ratings come formulaically from the school grades. These hard-working teachers, who taught new standards that were rolled out late in the summer with little preparation time, potentially will not see the increases they deserve: all because of a new test matched with an old accountability model.

Business and industry growth. Our schools and communities have the potential to suffer consequences of these declines, through the corresponding drops in school grades.  As you know, business and industry look to the stability and reliability of schools in a community when relocating. Declines in state averages on pass rates range from -13% to nearly -30%. D and F graded schools will make up slightly less than one -third of the schools in the state, with only about 7% of schools being graded an A.  This will cut across all types of schools – public, private, parochial, and charter. This gives communities and those looking at those communities, a false negative perception of its educational health: all because of a new test matched with an old accountability model.

A new baseline is needed, and should be an essential component of this new test. If we use the results of this test as a baseline – without the accountability grade ramifications – we now have a solid starting spot on which to build, helping to mitigate the worry over the declines, and eliminate anxiety around a school’s decreased grade. It is also important to explain all of this to our Indiana communities, so that they understand the results of the test the State’s students took last spring are not comparable to other ISTEP tests – and will now be used as a baseline to measure all subsequent tests against.

The stigma of a failing school on its children and families; and hard-working teachers not receiving their positive evaluations and increases in salaries MUST be rectified. Our schools, students, teachers, and communities deserve a new benchmark.

Thoughtfully Submitted,

Members of the EVSC Board of School Trustees