Claire Fiddian-Green: Some want to nix ILEARN. Here’s why we shouldn’t.

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Claire Fiddian-GreenIndiana recently released its ILEARN results, and they are distressingly low. Only 37% of third- through-eighth graders earned a passing score on both the math and English language arts sections of the new statewide exam. Disaggregating the data by income and race show that gaps between our state’s most vulnerable students and their peers continue to persist. Between low-income and more affluent students, the disparity in scores was 28 percentage points. Between black and white students, it was 29 percentage points.

In the face of these discouraging results, some have called for an end to statewide student testing. That would be a terrible mistake.

As leading management guru Peter Drucker famously said: What gets measured gets managed. Rather than discarding state assessments, we should analyze ILEARN results to identify where students are struggling and devise solutions that offer effective supports for students and their teachers.

While ILEARN results should raise concerns, especially about our state’s continued economic vitality, it should not be a surprise to close observers that the scores are so low. It is typical for scores to dip when a new test is implemented as students and teachers adjust to a new format.

More importantly, ILEARN—like the much-maligned ISTEP that preceded it—corresponds with the more rigorous math and ELA standards that Indiana adopted in 2014. Simply put, the test is harder because expectations for what knowledge and skills students are expected to demonstrate at each grade level have been raised—and rightfully so as the economy becomes more complex.

Hoosier families, schools, employers and policymakers want to be assured that students in every community are gaining the foundational skills they require in order to lead productive lives after high school. Like it or not, expectations for what students know and can do—in Indiana and across the world—are increasing. This is especially true in today’s global and increasingly automated economy.

Indiana needs to know whether we are doing all we can to prepare our children for success. While it doesn’t tell us the whole story about our students, one of the most objective measures we have for determining college- and career-readiness is a standards-based test.

Given this reality, how can the ILEARN results help focus the efforts of those working to improve student learning outcomes?

Let’s take the ILEARN math scores as one example. In third grade, 59% of Hoosier students are proficient in math, but by the eighth grade, only 38% of our state’s students are proficient.

These results raise several key questions: Why does this proficiency drop-off occur? Are our teacher-training programs designed to ensure that elementary and middle school math teachers are learning about proven approaches to teaching math? How are schools ensuring an integrated curricular transition between elementary and middle school?

We can also look to Indiana school districts with the highest ILEARN proficiency scores, like Brownsburg Community School Corp., and learn how they are supporting students and teachers by grade level and within each classroom. What practices from the highest-performing districts and schools can we replicate around Indiana?

This year’s ILEARN results, while disappointing, tell us that we aren’t meeting the needs of students and their teachers. The well-being of Hoosier children and the future strength of our state’s economy demand that we work together to learn from student testing results and develop comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of Indiana’s low proficiency scores.•

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Fiddian-Green is president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation and a former adviser to then-Gov. Mike Pence on education issues. Send comments to [email protected]


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