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One-Third of STudents Fail Latest ISTEP Exam

More than a third of Hoosier fourth- and seventh-graders failed statewide math and reading tests this year, according to results released Wednesday.

The failure rate on the first-ever tests given in those grades echoed the performance of third- and eighth-graders, whose exam scores were announced in December. As she did then, the state's top educator greeted Wednesday's results with a mix of optimism and disappointment.

"I think the results are good," said Suellen K. Reed, superintendent of public instruction. "I think we should feel that our students are making progress, and then I have to also say we have a long way to go because we want 100 percent to be passing in all areas."

This marked the first year all students in Grades 3-10 were tested. Grades 4, 5, 7 and 9 were added, along with a fifth-grade science exam based on tougher academic standards. Complete data on how fifth-graders fared on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus was delayed until today, while results for Grades 9 and 10 are expected in March.

Testing students more often should help them learn more as teachers use the more frequent results to hone classroom strategies, education officials say.

"It's something that's long been on our agenda," said Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar. "It will provide better data to teachers between grade levels."

Testing has become critical nationwide as the result of the sweeping No Child Left Behind Act federal law that holds schools accountable for student failure. The law is designed to raise the achievement of all children, especially poor, minority and special-needs students.

A minimum number must pass state tests to meet goals set by the law. The number goes up each year, and by 2014 all students are required to pass. The statewide results released Wednesday are from about 235,000 students.

At stake is the federal money set aside for poor and minority student programs.

Schools that fail to make annual progress are placed on a statewide improvement list. Those that receive Title I funds -- federal money used to help boost achievement of children at risk of failing -- may lose the money if student performance is consistently poor.

Students who fail are expected to be given additional help but are not held back automatically.

While ISTEP results are the basis on which schools are held accountable under state and federal law, they're also looked at by businesses and job candidates considering moving to the state.

This year, 64 percent of fourth-graders and 61 percent of seventh-graders passed both the English and math parts of the statewide exam.

Overall, passing rates for fourth-graders in 180 of Indiana's 292 districts proved higher than when they took ISTEP as third-graders. Students in 29 districts showed a substantial gain -- 10 percentage points or more.

Urban districts generally did not match that trend.

In Indianapolis Public Schools, the state's largest district, more fourth-graders failed ISTEP than when they took the test as third-graders last year. In 2003, 52 percent of the class passed. This year, as fourth-graders, 49 percent of the 3,085 tested passed.

A similar lackluster performance by seventh-graders placed IPS one rung from the bottom among the state's 10 lowest-performing districts.

School leaders found cause for optimism in other scores.

"Our steady increases in Grades 3, 6 and 8 and in science in Grade 5 indicate our efforts to improve literacy, math and science instruction are working," said IPS Superintendent Duncan Pat Pritchett.

In Beech Grove, students usually log passing rates near the top of all Marion County districts. This year, fourth-graders came out below the state average, with 63 percent passing both the math and language arts sections.

Clayton Collins, the district's director of instruction, sifted through the data and thinks he found the culprit: Of 169 students who took the fourth-grade test, 25 had just moved to the district. All but four of those students failed the exam, he said, and because they had been in Beech Grove less than a year, teachers had less opportunity to help them.

"That's what did it," Collins said.

Adding a science exam is a key step in giving students the education they'll need to succeed as adults.

The Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association recommends curriculums that outline what students should know at different grade levels. That's partly because of the need to create a more scientific and technically literate work force to compete in global markets.

Indiana students have taken a science exam since before federal law required it, and education officials hope to add social studies test as soon as the state can afford it or the federal government requires it.

"Science and social studies are where students have opportunities to actually apply the basic skills that they learn in mathematics and language arts," Reed said, "so we think it's important that we have information about how they're doing in those areas as well."

Building that requirement into the state's exams has encouraged teachers to cover topics such as basic physics more thoroughly, and, along the way, teach students how to reason, think creatively, make decisions and problem-solve.

Fifth-grade teacher Kent Grimes uses such science lessons with his students at Henry Burkhart Elementary in Perry Township. Using plastic tubes, student built roller coasters and used marbles to show gravity in a lesson about centrifugal force Wednesday afternoon.

"Teachers are always looking for ways to make science fun," said Principal John Happersberger.

Top 5, bottom 5
Percentage of students passing English and math ISTEP-Plus tests.
Grade 4
Top 5 districts

West Lafayette, 90 percent
Carmel Clay, 89 percent
Hamilton Southeastern, 87 percent
Northwest Hendricks, 87 percent
Zionsville, 87 percent
Bottom 5 districts
East Chicago, 37 percent
Lake Station, 36 percent
Gary, 33 percent
North White, 33 percent
Cannelton, 25 percent
Grade 7
Top 5 districts

West Lafayette, 92 percent
Zionsville, 91 percent
Carmel Clay, 90 percent
Northeast Dubois, 89 percent
Hamilton Southeastern, 87 percent
Bottom 5 districts
Crothersville, 36 percent
East Chicago, 32 percent
Hammond, 31 percent
Indianapolis, 28 percent
Gary, 24 percent
Source: Indiana Department of Education

Statewide ISTEP-Plus results for Grades 4, 5, 7
Grade 4
73% passed the LANGUAGE ARTS test
62% got a Passed designation
11% got a Pass-Plus designation
73% passed the MATH test
60% got a Passed designation
13% got a Pass-Plus designation
Grade 5
72% passed the LANGUAGE ARTS test
63% got a Passed designation
9% got a Pass-Plus designation
72% passed the MATH test
60% got a Passed designation
12% got a Pass-Plus designation
62% passed the SCIENCE test
55% got a Passed designation
8% got a Pass-Plus designation
Grade 7
68% passed the LANGUAGE ARTS test
60% got a Passed designation
9% got a Pass-Plus designation
73% passed the MATH test
58% got a Passed designation
15% got a Pass-Plus designation
Note: Some percent sets do not tally to 100 because of rounding.
Source: Indiana Department of Education

— Kim L. Hooper and Staci Hupp
Indiannapolis Star


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