Scores on last spring’s ISTEP+ exam show an overall drop in the number of third- through eighth-graders in Jackson County passing both English/language arts and math.

Medora Community School Corp. proved to be the exception and was the only local school system to buck the trend and show increases.

The general decline in county scores mirrors statewide data, which was made public by the Indiana Department of Education on Thursday morning. A total of 66.1 percent of Hoosier students passed English, down from 67.3 percent in 2015; 58.9 percent passed math, down from 61 percent; and 51.6 percent passed both, down from 53.5 percent.

Crothersville Community School Corp. was the only district in the county to show higher pass rates than the state in both sections of the test.

In the county’s biggest school district, Seymour Community Schools, a total of 57.9 percent of students passed English, down from 58.5 in 2015; around half of students, 49.5 percent, passed math, down from 53.3 percent in 2015; and 42 percent passed both, down from 44.7 percent.

Brownstown Central Community School Corp. had 60 percent of students pass English, down from 65.4 percent the previous year; 61 percent passed math, up from 60.2 percent the previous year; and 50.3 percent passed both sections, down from 52.2 percent in 2015.

Local administrators said they don’t have a lot of faith in the test and rely on other ways to determine student achievement and progress in the classroom.

Medora

Although Medora’s scores are an improvement from 2015, the corporation’s numbers are still considerably lower than other county schools and the state average.

A total of 46.4 percent of students in Grades 3 through 8 who took the test last spring passed English, up from 38 percent the previous year; 37.8 percent passed math, up from 33 percent; and 31.3 percent passed both, up from 25 percent passing in 2015.

“We know there is a lot of room for improvement as well as building a solid foundation for their college or career choice,” Superintendent Roger Bane said of student scores.

With a total student population of 220 in preschool through 12th grade, Medora is the second-smallest public school corporation in Indiana.

Bane said Medora’s small size can hurt its passing rates. He also doesn’t believe it is any indication of how hard teachers and administrators are working.

“One or two students who do poorly in a class can really affect our percentage passing due to class sizes,” he said. “We are more concerned with individual student growth than we are with the percentage we have passing a flawed test.”

For the past three years, Medora has focused its efforts to improve instruction through weekly teacher collaboration meetings and professional development.

“Teachers are using what they have learned to improve instruction in the classroom,” he said. “They have been working diligently to not only create curriculum maps but also improve questioning practices to help students achieve higher order thinking, which is what is asked of them on tests and in other aspects of life.”

Regardless of the scores, Bane said teachers and administrators will use the information to do better.

“The scores are definitely useful, as we will be working as a team to look at the data and ask ourselves, ‘What did we do well?’ and ‘What could we improve on?’” he said. “We can work as a team to identify the practices that helped our students succeed on certain skills the year before and continue to drive our instruction with data-informed decisions.”

Crothersville

Numbers for Crothersville show 68.9 percent of students passed English, down from 70 percent that passed in 2015; 73 percent passed math, down from 84 percent the previous year; and 59.5 percent passed both, down from 66.2 percent in 2015.

“Our scores were lower than normal, but the testing standards had changed considerably,” Principal Chris Marshall said. “We’ve been really working hard on aligning our language program with the new College and Career Readiness Standards.

“We are spending money in professional development for vocabulary and nonfiction comprehension,” he said. “We have already disaggregated individual student data to better understand what specific areas we need to improve on.”

Seymour

Cortland Elementary had the highest percentage of students passing both English and math in the county with 70.8 percent, which was down from the 73.6 percent that passed in 2015. In 2014, the school had 93 percent passing both sections of the test.

Margaret R. Brown Elementary had the lowest pass rates of Seymour Community Schools with 35.3 percent of students passing both English and math. The school has a large population of English Language Learners, and most students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and textbooks.

Superintendent Rob Hooker said he attributes the general decline in scores to students and teachers having to deal with a new test.

The 2016 ISTEP+ test was the second year of a new state assessment for grades 3 through 8 based on Indiana’s more rigorous College and Career Readiness Standards. As a result of the transition to new standards and assessment, a new baseline was established for ISTEP+ in 2015.

Multiple years are required for educators and students to fully transition to more rigorous standards and assessments.

“I will take a few days to chart out these scores by school and grade level over the past four years in order to make a determination about what the scores might reveal …” Hooker said.

Brownstown

Superintendent Greg Walker said even with the changes in the test, Brownstown students performed about the same as last year. He still considers the test a “flawed system,” though.

“These scores do not accurately portray the wonderful things that are happening in public schools, not only in Brownstown but across the state,” he said. “I am extremely proud of our seventh-, eighth- and 10th-grade math scores that were 9.9 percent, 17 percent and 12.6 percent higher than the state average respectively.”

In years past, schools would receive ISTEP results at the end of May, allowing principals time to digest data over the summer and develop plans to address deficiencies that could be implemented at the beginning of the school year.

“Now, we don’t get breakdowns of the scores until after the school year has started, which makes it more difficult to implement new strategies,” Walker said.

This year, Brownstown started using a new formative assessment program called Amplify. Students take the test three times per year. The data is used by teachers to determine where their students are on specific standards and then remediation plans are put into place to help students catch up.

Walker said the system works better than the ISTEP.

Parochial schools

Of area parochial schools, St. Ambrose Catholic School in Seymour had the highest percentage of students passing both English and math at 75 percent, an increase from 69.7 in 2015.

That’s followed by Lutheran Central School in Brownstown with 67.1 percent, an increase from 63.9 percent; Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour with 66.8 percent, an increase from 61.5 percent; St. John’s Lutheran School at Sauers with 41 percent; and Seymour Christian Academy, now known as Sandy Creek Christian Academy, with 33.3 percent, an increase from 31.5 percent the previous year.

This was the first year for Sauers to take the test and the second for Seymour Christian Academy since becoming state accredited.

New standards

Besides English and math, some grades also are tested in science and social studies.

Statewide, 64.9 percent of fourth- and sixth-grade students passed the science section, and 64.2 percent of fifth- and seventh-grade students passed the social studies section.

The 2016 ISTEP+ also was the first year of a new state assessment for 10th grade on more rigorous College and Career Readiness Standards. For this reason, 10th-grade results are not comparable to previous years’ pass rates. Instead, for the first time, the high school results show the percentage of students meeting the new College and Career Readiness benchmarks at each grade level.

A total of 59 percent of Hoosier students in 10th grade passed the English/language arts section, 34.6 percent passed the math section and 32.2 percent passed both sections. Additionally, 58.8 percent of students in 10th grade passed the science section of the assessment.

Additionally, for the first time in more than 20 years, Indiana had a new vendor for the ISTEP+ assessment. This change had additional impacts for students and educators during this implementation and transition year.

“Today’s results reflect Indiana’s focus on student progress toward more rigorous benchmarks for college and career readiness,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a statement. “However, it is important to remember that our students, schools and teachers are more than just a test score.”

ISTEP+ has been in turmoil in recent years. Lawmakers voted to replace the test with a new assessment by 2018. A panel is working to find an alternative and is expected to announce recommendations Nov. 29.

A bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence in January prohibited the 2015 scores from unfavorably affecting a teacher’s evaluation, pay or bonuses as well as a school’s A through F accountability grade, but the 2016 scores will count unless state leaders intervene again.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.