Seymour educators are standing up and voicing their concerns, disappointment and anger with the state’s handling of last year’s ISTEP exams.
Final scores from the spring test are expected to be made public in mid- to late-January after half a year of delays, but officials say results show a significant drop in scores, with schools previously rated A falling as much as 40 to 50 percent. There have been some questions made by legislators and administrators whether the scores are even accurate.
The state Department of Education has said average scores on the math portion of the test are expected to drop by 24 percentage points, with English scores falling by 16 percentage points.
The company that scores the test, CTB/McGraw-Hill, has issued statements that any problems that could have led to results being inadvertently changed “was rare” and “did not affect student scores.”
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Art Juergens, president of the Seymour Community School Corp. board of trustees, took time during a recent meeting to express his dismay and show support for local teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and students.
He described the situation as “chaos.”
“Our teachers worked so hard to get our scores up and get our school grades up and they did that,” Juergens said of the district’s report card for 2013, which saw all but one school receive an A accountability grade from the state.
For their efforts, Juergens said teachers were rewarded with a more difficult test and not enough time to prepare students. He also said that teacher performance bonuses announced in September are still being withheld because of the delay in ISTEP results which are used to determine schools A-F accountability grades.
He finds it hard to believe that scores could have dropped as much as the state anticipates.
“You can’t tell me those teachers aren’t doing the same thing they did a year ago by working harder to keep their grades up,” he said.
Kelli Reinhart, a teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, said frustration is at an all-time high among Hoosier teachers. She believes the state needs to be less involved in educating children.
“There are no words to express what a joke our state has made of testing,” she said. “They are in no way concerned about what is best for kids. Parents need to get involved and begin demanding a change in testing.”
Juergens said he is now worried about the state having more control of education issues in the future.
“President Obama signed an act to do away with No Child Left Behind, which was supposed to give the states more support,” he said. “Well the act is great, but I’m a little worried about Indiana having more control of what’s going on because apparently they can’t handle what they’ve got now.”
Besides putting public education in a bad light, Juergens said the ISTEP has hurt Indiana schools financially.
“We spent $24 million on this test, that could have been spent much better for our students,” he said. “I’m not saying accountability isn’t worth it, but we are sacrificing our children’s well-being and mental health for a school grade and a teacher evaluation.”
Although he hopes for a change, Juergens said he doesn’t expect anything different in 2016.
In an open letter to the media, presidents of several classroom teachers associations including Cheryl Fenton of Seymour said the delay in 2015’s results make it “impossible” to prepare students adequately for this year’s test.
The first part of this school year’s ISTEP test will be Feb. 29 through March 11. Seymour has opted for students in grades three through eight to take the test using paper and pencil instead of online, because of computer problems experienced in the past. Sophomores will take the new ISTEP 10 online except for the math portion.
The teachers associations are calling for the state to pause accountability as well as any punitive consequences resulting from the “latest release of misleading and fallacious ISTEP scores.”
ISTEP Testing Information for Seymour Community Schools
Jan. 6 – Electronic results from the 2015 test will be available on the Parent Network and Indiana Online Reporting System
Jan. 15 – Individual student reports delivered to corporations
Feb. 29 – March 11: ISTEP Part I Testing (grades 3-8 will take the test with paper/pencil; Grade 10 will take online except for math portion)
April 18 – Mary 6: ISTEP Part II Testing (all grades will take online)
“I’m not saying accountability isn’t worth it, but we are sacrificing our children’s well-being and mental health for a school grade and a teacher evaluation.”
Seymour Community School Corp. board president Art Juergens on ISTEP situation