JASPER COUNTY — With abysmal scores throughout the state, legislators called for a “hold harmless” resolution after replacing the state’s ISTEP+ tests with the new ILEARN test, all administered online.

A lot rides on the results of these standardized tests that so many administrators and teachers feel are unfair and do not represent a child’s progress in learning each year.

KV Superintendent Donald Street said they are looking at the numbers to see what the corporation can do when the testing time comes in 2020. He said low scores were expected as the state transitioned to a new test, just as happened when it changed from ISTEP to ISTEP+ testing.

Grades 3 through 8 were given the tests beginning in March and results of those tests were recently sent to the school districts, but were embargoed from public viewing until Sept. 3.

“Kankakee Valley School Corporation is in support of the proposed pause in utilization of the ILEARN results on teacher evaluations and school letter grades,” the corporation stated in a press release Sept. 9. “We believe that these test scores do not reflect the high levels of learning happening at our schools. Our corporation joins many others around the state calling on our governor and legislators to take a hard look at the practice of using standardized tests to evaluate our student, teachers and schools. There are far better ways to evaluate the learning and growth of the whole student.”

In a press release sent Sept. 4, the Indiana Department of Education stated ILEARN was developed with input from more than 1,200 educators and assesses the same Indiana Academic Standards as ISTEP+, but with a redefined focus on rigorous college and career readiness.

“When compared to past ISTEP+ scores, ILEARN indicated lower achievement levels across the state in both English/language arts and mathematics. While performance dips to some degree were expected, the combination of the rigors associated with this newly aligned CCR assessment, national normative data, and the defined established performance cuts all contributed to the lower performance levels. With the negative impact assessment results have on educators, schools, districts, and communities, IDOE will advocate for responsive legislative action.”

On Sept. 3, the Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to affirm there will be no letter grades given to the schools until the general assembly looks at ways to ease the transition to ILEARN.

“In line with Gov. Holcomb’s call to hold harmless, the board will not place school letter grades until the General Assembly takes the appropriate action to ensure this year’s ILEARN scores do not have an adverse impact on schools and teachers,” said B.J. Watts, board chair. “Once action has been taken, the board will hold a special meeting to assign those grades.”

The State Board of Education will meet Oct. 2 on the campus of Indiana University Northwest in Gary, which is open to the public.

Street said the state has spent too much money on standardized tests.

“We need to stop this testing madness,” he said. “We need to make it clear to our political leaders that our students deserve better than to be based on a one-time assessment. The money could’ve been used for better learning opportunities for our students.”

He said there has to be a more efficient and effective way to do this.

“Our teachers work extremely hard to teach and prepare our students for life. (ILEARN) is not a fair measure of what is truly accurate. We can do better as a state and a nation in measuring our students’ growth,” Street said.

Proficiency in both English/Language Arts and Math corporation-wide came in at 43.5 percent for the Kankakee Valley School Corporation. Rensselaer Central schools had an overall proficiency of 38.2 percent, while North Newton had a low 28.3 percent proficiency across the board. Hebron schools had an overall proficiency score of 35.9 percent.

Tests for science proficiency were administered to students in fourth and sixth grades, while fifth grade students were tested on social studies.

Fourth graders at the KV Intermediate School scored 61 percent proficient, and sixth graders at KV Middle School scored 56 percent. In social studies, fifth graders were at 59 percent proficiency.

The elementary schools at North Newton had low scores across the board, with Lincoln Elementary having the lowest proficiency scores. In English/language arts and math combined, Lincoln Elementary third-grade students had 16 out of 55 tested receive proficiency, a percentage of just 29 percent.

DeMotte Elementary had 93 of 178 third-grade students named proficient for 52 percent. Wheatfield Elementary third graders had 44 of 73 tests proficient — just above 60 percent of the class.

ILEARN achievement levels include: Below Proficiency, Approaching Proficiency, At Proficiency, and Above Proficiency.

North Newton Superintendent Cathy Rowe said results would be going home with students this week, along with a letter asking the parents to “interpret the results with caution.” She said parents should take the scores with “a grain of salt.”

“Low scores are disconcerting for parents and teachers,” she said, adding that she is looking at scores of other schools that are similar to the North Newton schools and schools in the region.

“It doesn’t accurately capture of what students need to be successful,” she said, “It’s a two-day test. How does that measure the other 178 days of school? It’s defeating to the kids and stressful. It’s just not a very good measure of what kids can do and are able to do.”

She said people need to talk to their legislators in the general assembly. A snap shot in time, of one day, in the life of a seventh grader, she said, cannot tell if that student is ready to go to college or not.

“There has to be a better way,” she said. She mentioned the “No child left behind” initiative. “It’s 20 years later. Are we any further down the road than we were before?”

Normally, the schools are given a letter grade based on their students’ scores. Rowe said schools will probably keep the letter grade received after last year’s scores if this year’s scores will bring it down. If the scores bring the school’s letter grade up, then that will happen.

“We have to fix the problem,” she said. “Make it easier for parents to understand how a school gets an ‘A.’ It’s a complicated process,” she said.

“While the 2019 ILEARN results do not provide a true reflection of the performance of Indiana’s schools, they do once again show us the importance of developing a modernized state legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent,” said the superintendent of public instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick. “With this in mind, the department will propose the following legislative actions: place a ‘hold harmless’ year on 2018-2019 letter grades, pause intervention timelines for all schools, and provide the State Board of Education with emergency rule-making authority to review and reestablish the state accountability system. The success and wellbeing of our students, educators and schools are dependent upon these actions.”

Rowe said they will be making sure the students, especially this year’s third graders, are proficient on the computer. The ILEARN test is done completely online.

“We are teaching technology skills they need to be able to take the test,” Rowe said.

Critical thinking and problem solving will also be in the forefront of teaching so students are more successful on the tests as well. Especially the math test, which is a complex process in a multistep problem.

“We’re doing more and going deeper in teaching problem-solving for this,” she said.