Last month, we took an in-depth look at the variety of tools used in Indianapolis Public Schools to mark the progress of our students and staff. In this transitional assessment year, there’s a lot of discussion about the downward shift in ISTEP+ results across the state. As the conversation continues around these preliminary (not final) statistics and the potential impact on school and district accountability grades, we wanted to remind you of the continuous work at hand to ensure measurable success for our students.

Across the state preliminary ISTEP+ (a standardized English/Language Arts and Math assessment administered to 3rd – 8th grade students) results are staggering for school districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools. Many school corporation superintendents are engaging in a concerted effort to inform stakeholders about challenges associated with the recently revised state assessments and to clarify the skewed picture the state-released preliminary results paint of school performance across Indiana. 

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) acknowledges this conundrum and officials have indicated there will be a 20 percentage point boost given to schools’ lackluster results. We want you, our parents and community members, to know we’re doing everything we can to ensure our students are appropriately represented by the state. Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee has joined statewide advocacy efforts to ensure that volatile assessment conditions do not negatively impact IPS students, teachers and schools. 

As is common with large districts, the margin for scoring errors on standardized assessments is more prominent. To address this disparity, schools have proactively contacted families of students who scored just below passing to educate them about the possibility of scoring errors. Only parents/guardians can request a rescore. Families who have not yet done so are still encouraged to exercise their rights by accessing the state’s online portal to request a manual rescore of the initially computer-scored test. Schools are still offering open computer labs and assistance with navigating the often considered cumbersome parent portal via IDOE’s website. Friday, November 13th is the last day to log on and request an ISTEP test rescore. 

In a time of questionable standardized test results, the in-house assessment practices of IPS support teaching and learning no matter what happens outside of our control.

“We utilize benchmark assessments to ensure our pacing is on point,” said Deputy Superintendent for Academics Dr. Wanda H. Legrand. “We can’t wait for state test results, so we developed these benchmarks to assess our students’ progress in real time and help our teachers with guidance to adjust their lesson plans. We can then compare our benchmark results to how students ultimately score on the state test, and our assessment department will plan next steps to fine-tune future professional development sessions.”

With or without state scores, our Curriculum team conducts qualitative walkthroughs to assess classroom pacing and ensure all students are on track for a successful school year. In addition to district practices, some schools complete weekly or biweekly common assessments to ensure student progress is tracked consistently. Our 2015 IPS Teacher of the Year Amy Wackerly relies on real-time assessments to ensure her lesson plans are aligned, and realigned when necessary, with students’ needs.

“I differentiate lessons daily to meet students where they are,” said Wackerly. “I use the state standards to help me plan my curriculum and my lessons, but then I differentiate as needed based on my own assessments I’ve done this year. I will look at the data, but my opinion is ISTEP is a test that was way too long and the results are questionable and returned way too late.” 

At the administrative level, Center for Inquiry School 2 Principal Andrea Hunley encourages her team to look beyond the initial numbers to find new ways to help our students.

“As a staff, we will analyze our scores by digging into the data to look at the story it tells,” said Hunley. “We will not focus on the bottom line percentage passing, but instead look deeper to the scores of specific subgroups. We will do a root cause analysis to look at how we can better support our subgroups (based on gender, race, special education status, and socio-economic status).  We will spend time as a staff asking ourselves critical questions like, ‘Why are certain subgroups outperforming others?’” 

To promote success in English/Language Arts (ELA) targeted instructional coaching, featuring literacy support staff in schools with a demonstrated need offers tiered supports to strengthen reading instruction in schools. Another emphasis from our Curriculum team is on guided reading.

“By the end of the school year, we’ll have guided reading libraries for all schools,” said Curriculum Officer Tammy Bowman. “This program allows teachers to work in small, targeted groups based on students’ individual needs to improve achievement.”

IPS is evolving to allow school leaders with proven success more flexibility and we’re encouraging more creativity in the classroom so principals and teachers can better meet the individual needs of their students while experiencing increased accountability for their efforts. Innovation Officer Aleesia Johnson oversees the district’s Innovation Network schools and is creating a pathway for IPS schools to experience increased flexibility through autonomy.

“We believe that by creating the conditions through which our principals and teachers can respond to the unique needs of the students they’re serving, then we will inevitably see student achievement improve,” said Johnson. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all method to learning; in fact, we already have schools that approach instruction in unique ways, and it makes sense for us to make that a more common practice so schools that have a plan for using this flexibility to help their students achieve in new ways are given the ability to do so.”

According to the state, final scores are anticipated in early December, with results available to families during winter break. IPS will send individual reports home at the beginning of second semester. We will continue to keep this conversation open and honest as we advocate for a meaningful assessment of our students’ achievement and discuss next steps for our schools and families.

“The anticipated lower test results do not reflect the work our students and staff do every day,” said Bowman. “We will always work to continue to grow as educators and meet students where they are to ensure they’re seeing success in and out of the classroom.”