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Cannelton achieves big gains on ISTEP

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City’s 4th- , 7th-graders earn 100-percent passing rates

By KEVIN KOELLING
Managing Editor

CANNELTON – Cannelton students showed “tremendous” gains in their Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam results, Schools Superintendent Alva Sibbitt reported Sept. 19.

Addressing the city’s school board, he noted he was reporting raw scores and said they differ from what the state reports.

“The reason there’s a difference,” he explained, is “you can have up to 3 percent of your student body, if they have an IEP which says they should not take the ISTEP, then they either take the IMAST or ISTAR, depending on what level of special education they’re in.”

Individualized Education Programs are developed through meetings of teachers and other school officials, parents and sometimes the students themselves to ensure a quality education for each child with a disability, according to the federal Department of Education.

According to the state Education Department, the Indiana Modified Achievement Standards Test measures achievement in language arts, math, science and social studies for special-ed students expected to earn high-school diplomas. Students who perform significantly below grade-level may have personal learning goals that cannot be adequately measured with a grade-level standardized test. They take the Indiana Standards Tool for Alternate Reporting.

“Apparently, we had more than 3 percent of our students who took these tests,” Sibbitt continued. The number of students you have over 3 percent, the state counts as failing. That’s why there’s a difference in what the state reports and the actual number of kids who took the ISTEP. We have no control over the number of kids who have an IEP that says they should not take the ISTEP test.”

“In grades six, seven and eight, we had 89.6 percent pass” the English or language-arts test, he continued. “This is a tremendous increase. Last year we only had a little over 50 percent pass the language-arts and math in grades six, seven and eight. The passing rate for math at those grades was 78 percent, he reported.

Why are the scores up? Sibbitt asked.

“Because the teachers were on task, they were teaching the Indiana standards and (Principal Roger) Fisher spent a lot of time working with teachers, telling them how to administer the test,” he said. “The people giving the test made sure (each student) turned in a completed test. I think in the past, there have been some students who just answered whatever questions they wanted to answer and got tired of taking the test and didn’t finish it. This year they all finished the tests.”

Of the nearly 90 percent, Sibbitt said, “I’m sure that compares with a lot of school corporations that have a much higher socio-economic student base than ours.”

In third, fourth and fifth grades, 45 students took the language-arts ISTEP exam, he reported, and 37 passed for an 82.2-percent success rate. Thirty-one of the 43 students in those grades who took the math test passed for a 72.2-percent rate. The overall success rate for third- through eighth-graders was 86 percent in language arts and 78 percent in math, Sibbitt said.

When the News reports the state-provided results, he told the board, “when they adjust those for the number of kids that either took the IMAST or the ISTAR that were above the 3 percent, it’s going to show 81.7 (percent) passed the English-language-arts and 78.0 passed the math. Why (the math number) didn’t change, I have no idea.”

Cannelton’s results varied in comparison to statewide averages, with all of the city’s fourth-graders passing the English test versus 84.3 percent of Hoosier students. The same group registered a 70.6-percent passing rate in math against an 83.5-percent state average.

Nearly 92 percent of Cannelton’s seventh-graders passed the same test compared to 74.2 percent of Indiana pupils. All of that class passed the math test, compared to 80.2 percent of students statewide.

Eighty percent of eighth-graders passed the English and 73.3 percent passed the math test, versus statewide results of 76.2 and 81.2 percent, respectively.

Sixth-graders were 1.5 points shy of the state’s average on the English test and three points under the math average. At the third-grade level, 63.3 percent of the local students passed the English test, compared to 85.2 percent of those throughout the state. Just over 80 percent of Indiana third-graders passed the math test.

The percentage of Cannelton third-grade students passing math was withheld by the state, as it often does when the number of students taking the tests is fewer than 10. (Editor's note: This information was incomplete in our print edition.)

Overall, 86 percent of Cannelton students passed the language-arts test, a rate 6.5 points higher than the state’s. They were 4.7 points shy of the state average in math.

Most scores rose statewide from those reported last year in the latest ISTEP results, according to a Sept. 18 news release from the Indiana Department of Education. The increases ranged from one-half a percentage point in third-grade math to 4.4 percent in fourth-grade math. Seventh-graders posted a 2.1-percent decrease from last year’s scores. Local educators have noted in past years that comparing one year’s fourth-graders to the previous year’s, for example, isn’t useful because of differences in the groups. For improvement figures to be meaningful, they suggested, they would have to reflect changes in the same students’ knowledge, such as improvements from one year’s group of fourth-graders to the next year, when they’re fifth-graders.

Some statisticians suggest if all other factors are equal, a difference must be at least 5 percent to be statistically significant. All factors were not equal in this year’s testing. As the News and other media reported earlier this year, computers froze or logged students off repeatedly as they tried to complete the exams. Computer servers maintained by test provider CTB McGraw Hill were unable to handle the volume of students, school officials statewide were told.

The state’s news release provided only the all-grades rate – 73.5 percent – for students who passed both parts of the tests. Nearly 92 percent of Cannelton’s seventh-graders marked that achievement. Just over 44 percent of third-graders were successful in both English and math, as were 70.6 of its fourth- and fifth-graders and 66.7 percent of its sixth- and eighth-graders.

“As you know, our students took this test by paper and pen,” Sibbitt continued at the Sept. 19 meeting. “There was a complete disaster with the students that took it over the Internet. It was shut down, it was overloaded …. Our test results are valid. In my opinion, the ones that took it over the Internet are not valid … because those students had an advantage in that they got to see the test two or three times because they had to go back and do it over again.”

“I know the Fort Wayne School Board has already declared the ISTEP tests in their school corporation to be invalid,” he went on, suggesting their declaration had no real meaning beyond their expression of the opinion.

Sibbitt also said the state used to group schools into leagues of 50 based on socio-economic status, “basically how many kids you had on free and reduced(-price) meals; then they compared you to the other 49 schools that were very similar to you socio-economically, which would be a good way of doing it.”

He offered an example of how not using socio-economic data to compare schools is unfair. He didn’t know specific numbers, but said, “my guess is that the entering freshman class at Harvard probably had average SAT (scores) of around 1,300, somewhere in that ballpark.”

Students entering Indiana State University likely had scores between 900 and 1,000, he continued. “Does that mean that Indiana State is a bad university? No. All it means is that Indiana State serves a different population than Harvard. Harvard serves brilliant kids primarily from the upper-upper economic status. Indiana State serves kids from blue-collar homes, many of which are the first person to go on to college (from their families).”

“Cannelton serves a completely different population than Zionsville or Carmel or Center Grove,” the superintendent noted.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the results of the ISTEP scores,” he said, again complimenting the teachers and administrators. “We do take it seriously here. It gives us a mirror to see how we’re doing.”

He also said if he had to choose, he would prefer to see students perform well in English because that test measures the ability to read and comprehend what’s read, “which is much more difficult to remediate, especially in low socio-economic communities … math is much easier to remediate – that’s been my experience over 36 years. I’m extremely happy with our language-arts scores … I interviewed a lot of kids in Paoli who dropped out of school and every one of them told me, ‘Dr. Sibbitt, I couldn’t read very well.’ School’s not a very fun place to be if you don’t read very well. It makes it difficult to be successful.”

“So anyway, I’m very pleased and want to congratulate everybody that was involved,” he concluded.

The 2013 numbers released Sept. 18 are preliminary and will be finalized after students and parents have the opportunity to request rescores of an applied-skills portion of the test, state education officials said. They plan to release science scores in October.