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Fewer than half of Indiana students met expected achievement levels on the state’s new standardized test, leading the state’s top educator to renew her call for changes on how those results are used for rating schools and teachers.

Statewide results for the spring 2019 ILEARN exam released Wednesday show that 47.9% of students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded proficiency standards in language arts and 47.8% met or exceeded them in math. Those are both more than 10 percentage points lower than the passing rates for last year’s pass or fail ISTEP exam, when 64.6% passed language arts and 58.9% passed math.

Even before the ILEARN results were released to the public, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders called for lawmakers to approve a one-year delay in using those test scores so they don’t hurt teacher evaluations or the A-F ratings for schools.

State schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said the two exams aren’t comparable, as the new test covers some different material and uses tougher standards for determining whether students are making sufficient progress as they advance through grade.

More than half of Indiana’s schools would receive D or F ratings if the state Department of Education used the new test results to produce those ratings, she said. About 15% of schools received such ratings based on last year’s ISTEP exam.

McCormick said she doesn’t believe the state’s students are backsliding, pointing to national tests that show Indiana students exceeding the national average scores. For example, Indiana 4th and 8th graders slightly exceeded the national averages on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam and the SAT college entrance exam, where Indiana’s 2018 high school graduates’ mean score of 1086 was 18 points better than the national mean.

“We are seeing some promising trends of our student performance going up, this assessment is just much more rigorous,” she said.

The ILEARN results showed that 37.1% of students met or exceeded standards on both the English and math exams. White students met standards of both exams at a 43.3% rate — far ahead of the 14.8% of black students and 24.2% of Hispanic pupils. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price meal programs had a 22.9% proficiency rate on both tests, compared to the 50.9% for children whose families had better incomes.

Nearly 500,000 Indiana students took the ILEARN test this year after the Republican-dominated Legislature ordered it in 2017 as a replacement for the ISTEP exam, which faced years of complaints about the number of days it took students to take, technical problems administering it and long waits for the results.

ILEARN is computer adaptive, meaning questions change depending on whether a student answers a previous question correctly. State officials have said it will assess a student’s abilities better than the ISTEP, which gave all students the same questions.

McCormick, a Republican who previously worked as a teacher and school superintendent in Yorktown, disagrees with the state’s reliance on the results of a single student exam to determine school ratings. That’s a key difference in her taut relationship with Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders that contributed to her decision not to run for re-election next year.

McCormick said too many changes have occurred with standardized testing in recent years, including the development of a revised ISTEP after then-Gov. Mike Pence’s 2014 push to withdraw Indiana from the national Common Core standards and the later switch to the ILEARN exam.

“We are who we vote for. Policy fatigue is certainly setting in in the state of Indiana and I know we are not alone,” McCormick said. “At some point, Indiana needs to listen to practitioners as some of those policies are being developed and be smart about how we move forward.”

Keith Gambill, the head of the state’s largest teachers union, said he believes legislators are placing too much reliance on how a third-grader performs on a single test to rate the effectiveness of schools and teachers.

“It’s this fallacy of this one-stop shop, that this one thing will do everything and the test simply isn’t constructed to do that,” he said.

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