Indiana

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Vincennes ISTEP+ Scores Improve After District Proves Computer Errors To Blame

On April 29 and April 30, server issues at testing company CTB/McGraw Hill disrupted thousands of Indiana students' online ISTEP+ exams.

StateImpact Photo Illustration by Kyle Stokes

On April 29 and April 30, server issues at testing company CTB/McGraw Hill disrupted thousands of Indiana students' online ISTEP+ exams.

Administrators at Clark Middle School in Vincennes knew something was wrong when scores on statewide ISTEP+ tests dropped off — only 54 percent of students passed state tests this spring, compared to 64 percent in 2013.

The results were especially surprising because the school used assessments from CTB/McGraw-Hill, the same company that administers the ISTEP+, to pre-test students, as Jenny Peter reported in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial in September:

The same assessments also predicted the increases seen at the elementary level, according to superintendent Greg Parsley.

“Our Acuity test, which is a predictor test published by McGraw-Hill, gave indicators that we were going to have good things to talk about with the elementary schools,” he said. “And the same thing was there with the middle school. We didn’t expect to see the same kind of jumps, but we were expecting to see a slight increase, at least a following along of the trends of other state schools.”

But the real piece of convincing evidence, Parsley said, has only recently surfaced.

[Administrators] looked at a specific group of sixth-graders who last year performed very well in the math portion of the test as fifth-graders.

This year, however, some of them didn’t perform well at all, and in certain cases students that were high performers last year actually got zeros on the easiest portion of the math test.

Peter reports those students took their tests in a classroom with significant computer disruptions. Server problems at CTB/McGraw-Hill kicked more than 79,000 Indiana students out of state tests this spring.

Over the summer, New Hampshire-based testing expert Richard Hill concluded the delays did not have a significant impact on results, and only about 1,400 tests were ultimately thrown out.

But what Clark Middle School administrators were seeing didn’t square with that outside review, and they appealed the results to the Indiana Department of Education.

In an editorial, the Sun-Commercial reports the state superintendent’s office conceded last week that the results weren’t accurate:

Somewhat unexpectedly (and perhaps even inexplicably), this week the state announced that Parsley was right, that results for those Clark students didn’t square with their past performances, and the grades where raised to square with what Parsley and other school officials thought they should have been in the first place.

Which means that whereas Clark Middle School [would have] been awarded a D under the state’s (also inexplicable) grading system, it should now receive a more-respectable grade of C.

To outsiders that may not seem like a big deal — to be told your school is merely average — but given where the school was not that long ago (failing and on the verge of being taken over by the state) and all the hard work that’s been put into improving it, a C grade truly is something to celebrate.

As we’ve written, Indiana schools haven’t received their 2012-13 letter grades yet. The statewide A-F accountability system has become a contentious issue between Superintendent Glenda Ritz and the State Board of Education in recent weeks, with board members accusing the department of stalling.

The grades could be approved this month at a special Dec. 20 meeting.

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