(The Center Square) – Indiana legislators meeting in Indianapolis this week took a close look at the state’s ILEARN test scores from last spring and several the results when a record amount of money is flowing into public schools.
“Those scores are not acceptable,” said Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R- Noblesville. “We talk many times about the low test scores but none of them are very good.”
The results showed a plunge in what students learned last school year, with only 28.6% of students statewide getting a passing grade on both the math and English (ELA) test compared to two years ago when 37% passed both tests. None of the grade levels tested – 3 through 8 – showed a majority of students statewide pass either the math or the English test.
The math scores were the lowest, with 28% of eighth graders getting a passing grade.
Goodrich told Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, who’d presented a breakdown of the results, that he wanted to know what was going to be done.
“I would love to be in the meeting where you talk about: What is the solution to bring all students, and even the high performing ones, to a better level, because those scores, I’m sure, for you, and you’ve been talking about this, are not acceptable,” he said.
The presentation and hearing took place before a summer study committee made up of members of the Indiana House and Senate education committees. It was chaired by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond.
“Just throwing money at a problem isn’t going to solve it,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who is an educator. “I am concerned about what we are doing with education in this state. I think we have to get our focus going.”
Smith said he thinks the state is “stuck on stupid.”
“We’re not getting any results,” he said. “We must really get to the root of the problem.”
In public comment, Mark Russell, of the Indianapolis Urban League, called the performance of black students on the ILEARN assessment “nothing short of horrendous” and said it “does not represent a sound return on investment for black taxpayers.”
Just 17% of black students in the state in grades 3 through 8 got a passing score on the English test, and 12% got a passing score on the math test.
In 2019, the last time the ILEARN was administered, 24.7% of black students in the state passed the English test and 22.5% passed the math test.
Russell implored the Indiana General Assembly and the state Department of Education to respond to the results as the emergency that it is.
“The first step is to recognize that there’s a problem, a very serious problem,” he said.
In her presentation to legislators, Jenner attributed the low test scores to the pandemic, and particularly to online instruction, which was ineffective for many students and a disaster for some.
“Growth rates associated with virtual/remote instruction were very poor, especially in mathematics,” she said, noting black and Hispanic students were much more likely to receive virtual or remote instruction, on I-pads or computers, than white students.
Almost half of Indiana schools had more than 90% of students in schools for in-person learning all year in 2020-2021 and almost 80% of schools in the state had more than 60% of students in-person all year.
About 5% of schools in the state had more than 50% of students who were learning virtually all year.
“The largest school districts in the state were not face-to-face, and those are the districts that needed to be face-to-face,” Jenner said.
She added that “supplemental supports” would be needed to improve scores, and she talked about the need for community involvement in schools.
One person raised the issue of academics, and pointed to what is being taught in the classroom, or isn’t being taught.
Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education organization, said they’ve found that in Indiana schools “much of the rigor is too low, and it never actually reaches grade level.”
“Frankly, our expectations for Hoosier students have been far too low for far too long,” he told legislators.
Click here to see ILEARN test results for the 2020-2021 school year, broken down by school and by race/ethnicity and grade level.