For starters, the ISTEP+ exam results are the backbone of the state’s letter grading system for more than 1,500 elementary and middle schools.
But in the conversation we’ll have here on StateImpact about what these ISTEP+ results mean, it might be helpful to start by figuring out what they don’t mean:
- The ISTEP+ is not the sole determining factor of a school’s letter grade. The test never really was. But as recently as last year, an informed observer could look at a school’s ISTEP+ passing percentage, compare it to past results and figure out the school’s A-F rating on her own. The letter grades, after all, were based on a matrix written into Public Law 221. But this year, for the first time, a complex formula assessing whether the school is demonstrating “high growth” or “low growth” will be key to determining the school’s letter grade. In fact, the new “growth model” has been simultaneously praised as an improvement on the old rating system, but criticized as being inscrutable.
- The ISTEP+ is not the IREAD-3. The ISTEP+ does have an English language arts or “ELA” portion. But the IREAD-3, the test of Indiana third graders’ reading abilities that students must pass in order to advance to the fourth grade, is a separate exam with separate testing dates.
- The ISTEP+ is not a high school-level test. High school students take End of Course Assessments — “ECA’s” — in Algebra I and English 10. These results, unlike in elementary and middle schools, factor into a high school’s state letter grade. But a high school’s state letter grade rating is based on measurements other than these test results, including how many students pass AP or IB exams, how many students earn career certificates, and how many students graduate. But on that note…
- The ISTEP+ is not totally irrelevant to high schools’ letter grades. Tuesday’s test results means little to most high school students, teachers and administrators — most, but not all. More than 140 Indiana schools serve students in both middle-level and high school-level grades. Some are rural schools with more grades combined under one roof. Others are charter schools. Still others are “community high schools,” which serve middle and high school students in urban districts. In these buildings, middle school-aged students do take the ISTEP+, and their score does affect the school’s letter grade.