Shannon Williams

This week, residents across the state received the 2018- 2019 ILEARN results and the data proved what many already assumed: a decrease in proficiency rates compared to last year’s ISTEP+ test. 

As with most things, change can be difficult and ILEARN was no exception. For starters, the test is completely computer-based. While technology is ever evolving and seems to play an integral role in every aspect of our lives, it is unrealistic to assume all students are familiar with computers. For those students, the typical angst of test-taking coupled with working on an object they have limited experience with can be extremely uncomfortable and perhaps even overwhelming. In addition, ILEARN is far more rigorous than previous tests.

ILEARN test questions are adaptive, so they change based on the ability of the test-taker. The adaptive approach aims at more accurately identifying the strengths and gaps of each student and reduces the issues many associated with the “one-size-fits-all” approach of other standardized tests. There are also new types of questions, including a drag-and-drop format that has not appeared on previous tests. 

Due to the drop in scores, Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a call for the Indiana General Assembly to pass a “hold harmless exception,” or a one-year reprieve so not to affect teacher evaluations and school assessment grades. The move will also be a buffer of sorts and help students get better acclimated to the new exam.

While standardized tests can be a frustrating, they are necessary to help better understand how schools are serving students, especially students of color and those who are in low-income households. Even more necessary is continuity amongst the type of tests students take. In Indiana, there have been multiple updates to the standards the tests are based on, types of test questions and the way tests are taken. These changes all happened in a span of just a few years. It is unfair to students, teachers and schools when the type of test is changed so frequently. Moving forward, it will be essential that Indiana select a test and stick with it, otherwise, we will continue to find ourselves in a constant cycle of readjustments.

Though ILEARN data shows a drop in proficiency overall, students in local charter and innovation schools continue to outpace their counterparts in traditional public schools. This rings particularly true for Black and Hispanic students.

Here are some highlights: 

Even while serving a greater percentage of low-income students and students of color Indianapolis charter and innovation schools have higher proficiency rates than their counterparts in Indianapolis Public Schools. 

Black students in local charter and innovation schools passed both the English and math exams at double the rate of their peers in public schools. Black students in independent charter schools passed at nearly triple the rate of traditional public school students in IPS. 

Hispanic students in independent charter schools passed both the English and math exams at nearly double the rate of their traditional public school peers in IPS. 

So, while ILEARN results aren’t what most would have hoped for, Black and brown families are still faring better if their children attend an independent charter or innovation school, as opportunity gaps for those students are amongst the smallest in Marion County. In contrast, Washington Township, a district many falsely perceive to be one of the best is actually failing low-income and students of color by disproportionate rates. Marginalized students in Washington Township experience the largest opportunity gaps in Marion County at nearly 50 percent. Opportunity gaps in Lawrence, Pike and Warren townships are only slightly better. 

With independent charter and innovation schools, parents have a choice and that choice should be clear. When it comes to educating Black and Hispanic children, charter and innovation schools are outperforming traditional public and township schools. The recent ILEARN data  demonstrates this clearly. 

Shannon Williams is senior vice president of community engagement at The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education nonprofit that works to build a system of schools that gives every student, no exceptions, access to a high-quality education.

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