The Indiana Department of Education released results for the spring 2019 Indiana Learning Evaluation and Readiness Network (ILEARN) exam, which showed Black and poor students in grades 3-8 in the greater Indianapolis area are less proficient than their white peers in English language arts, math, science and social studies.
The average proficiency gap in English language arts and math — the subjects the state uses to grade schools — between white and Black students in 11 Marion County school districts was 25.4 percentage points. Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township had the smallest gap at 4.9 points, and Metropolitan School District of Washington Township had the largest gap at 48.2 points. Indianapolis Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, had a gap of 25.2 points.
Marion County schools performed slightly better in that regard compared to the state as a whole, which had a Black-white proficiency gap of 28.5 points. There was also a gap in science and social studies, but fewer students take those assessments and they aren’t part of the state’s grading system.
There was a similar gap when comparing students who qualify for free and reduced lunch and those who don’t. Qualifying students across the county saw an average gap of 20.1 points for English language arts and math. Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township had the smallest gap at 9.8 points, and Washington Township schools had the largest gap at 40.3 points.
ILEARN was created by the state legislature as a replacement for ISTEP+, though it’s meant to assess the same academic standards. The difference is that ILEARN focuses on college and career readiness. This was the first round of testing with ILEARN.
The statewide pass rate for English language arts and math with ISTEP+ in the spring of 2018 was just above 50%, compared to 37.1% with ILEARN. A drop in performance is usually expected when a test changes.
“While the 2019 ILEARN results do not provide a true reflection of the performance of Indiana’s schools, they do once again show us the importance of developing a modernized state legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement.
McCormick said the department will propose legislative changes for the test. Those include a “hold harmless” year on schools’ A-F letter grades, which are in part determined by the assessment, as well as pausing intervention timelines for schools and giving the State Board of Education emergency rulemaking authority to “review and reestablish the state accountability system.”
One faction of schools in Marion County that seemed to fare better than others was independent charter schools, most of which are within IPS boundaries. Independent charters had a Black-white proficiency gap of 14.2 points for English language arts and math, about 11 points fewer than the gap for all Marion County schools.
Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, said there should be more schools in Marion County that have the autonomy of charter schools. The Mind Trust is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that advocates for charter and Innovation Network Schools.
“As a community, we have to acknowledge the challenges but then also rigorously analyze the data to figure out what’s working and what’s not working,” he said, “and then hopefully we can start to replicate the practices that are working.”
Visit doe.in.gov to download ILEARN data.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.