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New state exam finds Indiana students didn't learn enough

Educators say the new exam, ILEARN, is more rigorous, measured different skills, and had other changes that may have affected students' performance.
Credit: sengchoy
Close up of high school or university student holding a pen writing on answer sheet paper in the examination room. College students answering multiple choice questions test in the testing room in university.

INDIANAPOLIS — Many Indiana students apparently didn't learn enough to pass the state's brand new ILEARN exams.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said scores "dipped" and aren't a "true reflection" of schools' performance. McCormick, like Governor Eric Holcomb, is asking lawmakers to suspend school accountability laws for one year.

The stakes are high for both schools and their teachers.

Kaylee Fuller teaches her fourth graders at Decatur Township's Blue Academy elementary school.

She is nervous - the test scores of last year's students could affect her paycheck.

"It is scary to think that people might not get their raises," she said.

ILEARN, like the ISTEP+ exam it replaced, measures students' academic achievement and progress. They also factor into a school's state-assigned grade, state and federal grants, teacher evaluations and a school's image.

Fuller watched her students take ILEARN for the first time.

"As I was going around, I was saying this is tough on the kids, yes this is tougher," she explained.

Educators say the new exam is more rigorous, measured different skills, and had other changes that may have affected students' performance. Schools and parents have already seen the results.

Blue Academy Principal Chris Gearlds doesn't believe the test scores accurately represent what students learned.

"I would say no," he replied. "We've got some very strong areas and some areas to grow."

Gearlds supports proposals to hold schools and teachers harmless, that means not punishing them for lower test scores.

"Our teachers work extremely, extremely, extremely hard." he said.

"I look at it as a learning experience," Fuller explained. "I am able to take that knowledge that I am learning from those tests, so I am able to help my students grow in certain areas."

Teachers are already changing tactics, tweaking their lesson plans and working with mentors and coaches.

"Everyone of our teachers in this building is being coached by one of our mentor teachers or lead teachers," Gearlds said.

And the extra work isn't just to be ready for the next test.

"I would say this test and beyond," Gearlds said.

ILEARN test scores and the numbers of students who passed or failed the state-mandated exams will be released during next week's meeting of the state's board of education.

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