In 2018, Tindley Summit Academy, where I’m principal, jumped almost ten percentage points in proficiency rates in English/Language Arts and five percentage points in math on ISTEP, a previous Indiana state standardized test. In 2019, the first year of ILEARN, a new state test, we had just 16% of proficient students in English and 21% proficient in math. When the exam changed Tindley, like most schools in our state, saw a significant drop in pass rates in both ELA and math. As we hit the homestretch of the 2019-20 school year in early March, projections were promising. We never got the chance to find out how well our students were doing on ILEARN because school shut down that month.
Last year, we lost an opportunity for what we felt was redemption on the state exam. We knew our students were growing, and we had expected them to perform well on the test. We wanted to use the test data to build on this progress while learning where the gaps were that we needed to address. That is why I support the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to ask states to administer a common state test, and the Indiana Department of Education’s decision to administer ILEARN this year without tying results to accountability.
Understanding the COVID Slide for Children
After schools shut their physical doors in March 2020, in my school as in many others, there were students who, despite every effort to get them logged on, did not return to school until we opened our doors again in August. These students showed up to school after missing the last nine weeks of the previous grade, and we moved them onto the next grade. Take Brandon (pseudonym), a first-grader, who was making good progress right up to the shutdown. We lost Brandon between March and July. When our school opened on August 17, we were excited to see Brandon but also concerned because we knew how much instruction he had lost just as he was entering 2nd grade, a critical time in his education. If we can administer the state test, we can obtain data such as current reading levels and math ability for Brandon. The data we receive from the exam will let us know if the academic interventions we put in place for Brandon are working when lined up against a common state assessment. We will use such data to help Brandon and students like him to make up for lost learning and ensure they’re making progress.
Objectivity on what students know and do not know.
By giving a standardized exam this year, we will have objective data on what students know and do not know. With ILEARN, we will be able to test students on a similar set of questions, with the exam given around the same time and in similar testing environments.
Personal accountability as a school leader
It is important to note that the administration of ILEARN this year will come with no accountability from the federal government or the state. As a school leader, however, I would be doing my students, school, and families a disservice if I was not holding myself to a standard to ensure students are learning. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal for proficiency rates in English/language arts and math. The state exam will help me to hold myself accountable in my building as the instructional leader and to ensure that the children in my school are learning. The goals we set were also goals we set as a network. ILEARN will help provide data points to guide our instruction so we’re not shooting in the dark when it comes to educating our children.
Standardized exams for 2020-2021 are about redemption. We are excited and ready for the opportunity to have data that we can help our children learn and succeed.