Howard County schools saw dips in ILEARN results this year, though school officials are not too concerned about the results of a standardized test administered during a year of challenges.
Declines in passing rates were predicted by the Indiana Department of Education earlier this summer, and data released last week confirms it.
Only 28% of Indiana third through eighth graders passed both the math and English potions of the test, a decline from 2019. Students did not take ILEARN last year due to the pandemic. This is just the second year the test has been given.
The percentage of Howard County students who passed both portions of ILEARN ranged between 9% and 39%, depending on school district.
Districtwide, Western sported the best passing rates for students who passed both math and English and the percentage of students who passed each individually.
They were also better than state passing rates.
Lissa Stranahan, director of exceptional learners and testing at Western, credited teachers and said in-person instruction made a significant difference in helping students prepare to take the standardized test.
“The ILEARN scores were not as high as we had hoped they would be, but considering the COVID-19 pandemic we were pleased with the results in comparison to other state and local corporations,” Stranahan said via email.
Thirty-nine percent of Western students passed both portions of the test, while 49% passed the English portion and half passed math.
Northwestern had the second-highest pass rates in the county. Middle school Principal James Bishir said the results are a testament to staff who kept up with innovative ways to teach students, especially remotely.
For example, Bishir said seventh-grade teacher Jennifer Bowen was an early adopter of live instruction for students who were at home due to contact tracing.
“I feel our scores reflect the commitment our students, staff, and families made to offer high quality education during a difficult time,” Bishir said in an email. “Our entire staff learned new skills to deliver content remotely and offer live instruction, and our tech team was instrumental in that process as well.”
Taylor schools sported the lowest scores in the county. Only 9% of students passed both English and math, one of the worst rates in the state.
For Superintendent Chris Smith, it’s just one data point, and one he’s not too concerned about.
“If we didn’t have COVID, our score would have been better,” he said. “I don’t doubt that.”
The superintendent said Taylor will continue to focus on preparing students for life and what follows after school.
Kokomo passing rates were also below state passing rates. Twenty-six percent of students passed the English portion, 22% passed math and only 15% passed both.
Though Kokomo schools will use ILEARN results to fine-tune its curriculum, officials argue the data is not an appropriate determinant of school success, especially during a pandemic school year.
“As we have said in the past, Kokomo Schools officials fundamentally, and philosophically, disagree with the State Legislature’s approach in determining student achievement based on a single test that is a one-time snapshot,” Dave Barnes, director of communications, said in a new release.
Kokomo school officials encourage parents to contact their student’s teacher, who can offer a better evaluation of academic success.
Eastern had middle-of-the-pack scores, doing better than Taylor and Kokomo but not as well Western or Northwestern.
Forty percent of Eastern students passed math and 42% passed English, but only 30% passed both.
“We knew that scores would not be as good as we expect them to be in a normal year,” Keith Richie, Eastern superintendent, said in an email.
Math scores saw the sharpest declines. Almost 49% of Indiana third graders passed the math portion of ILEARN, but only 27% of eighth grade students did.
That drop off is seen locally, too.
Eastern had the highest percentage of third graders pass the math portion, at 68%. That pass rate would fall for grades four through seven.
For Northwestern and Eastern, there was more than a 10% drop between fourth- and fifth-grade pass rates.
There was more than a 12% drop between sixth and seventh grades at Western. Taylor and Kokomo also saw some of the same declines between grade levels.
Stranahan said ILEARN math questions are often multi-step problems, requiring application of learned skills and increase in complexity depending on grade level. She said that is likely why many schools saw significant drops.
Though test scores were down across the board, socioeconomic and racial differences were striking.
Only 8% of Black Indiana students passed both reading and math, whereas 34% of white students and 46% of Asian students passed both.
Similar gaps exist for students living in poverty.
Statewide, only 15% of students on a free and reduced-meal plan passed English and math. Students who do not qualify for free or reduced meals passed at a much higher rate, 41%.
This is another trend seen locally. Except for a few outliers, students not on free or reduced meals tested higher than their counterparts.
It’s consistent at almost every school in the county.
At Wallace Elementary, there was more than a 2:1 difference between paid meal and free- and reduced-meal student passing rates.
Same at Sycamore Elementary, where more than half of students not on free or reduced meals passed both English and math, but only 17% of students receiving meal assistance did.
A study commissioned by the Department of Education indicates it will take more than a single school year to make up the decline in math scores.
Secretary of Education Katie Jenner told the State Board of Education this year’s results should not be compared to previous years.
“This data cannot be an indictment on anyone, on anything, on any school,” she said.
Jenner said schools should use the test scores to plan how to help students recover.
Federal pandemic relief funds and IDOE grants aim to help close that gap.
Kokomo and Northwestern are partnering with Indiana University Kokomo to help students catch up in reading and math over the next two years.
IUK education students will work with teachers at Kokomo and Northwestern to provide more one-on-one instruction to students.
Grant funds will aid with data collection and student assessments, which will help teachers identify the best way to help each student. The end result will be more personalized instruction.
About 40 IUK students will be spread throughout the Kokomo school district this fall.
Northwestern students in kindergarten through junior high will receive extra help with math and reading this year.
Taylor used pandemic relief funding to add a student support coach and a behavioral specialist at each school building.
Reading and math skills were also focuses of summer school, which saw a greater importance this year, as most school districts expect a return to normal when students return next month.