ILEARN test scores impact Evansville students, teachers and families

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Testing stress isn’t limited to just the day of the exam. Parents, students and teachers report an impact from standardized tests like the ISTEP and ILEARN for months leading up to the exam and even afterward.

One Evansville parent even considered opting her son out of the ILEARN last year because it caused so much anxiety and turmoil for her son. 

Breanna Black, an Oakhill Elementary School parent, said no test is going to show a child’s full abilities.

“I don’t feel like a couple days of testing is ever going to measure what our kids are capable of, and it just seems like a waste of money and a big stress on the teachers and kids,“ Black said. 

It’s not just parents expressing frustration over the outcomes of the new ILEARN, which replaced the much-maligned ISTEP last year. Many have taken to social media to express their frustrations.

As a teacher, it is aggravating,” one wrote on Facebook. “These kids work hard all year, and our assessments show they are growing. Then, we give this new test, and now all of Indiana has dropped. This only shows that the tests are not effective as a measurement of students.”

ILEARN was administered to all Indiana students in grades 3 through 8, with an emphasis on English language arts, math, science and social studies components. 

The numbers

On Wednesday, the Indiana Department of Education released the statewide assessment scores. And nearly half of EVSC schools tested did not achieve proficient math or English scores above 40 percent, according to the data. With lower test scores than in previous years, many teachers and families are wondering what that means for their child’s school. 

“All staff members that are working with students are frustrated with this system,” EVSC spokesman Jason Woebkenberg said. “They want to see the very best for their students and want to see some consistency and a system that doesn’t continue to change year after year.”

Overall, EVSC students were 45.2 percent proficient in English and 44.4 percent proficient in math. Statewide, 47.8 percent of students were rated proficient in math and 47.9 percent in English.

Woebkenberg said the results from the recent assessment have created a substantial loss of confidence among educators, families and students in EVSC schools.

“There’s a lot of pressure for all educators out there with high-stakes standardized testing,” he said. “When they see the drastic drop in scores for this new assessment, it’s resulted in a lot of frustration.”

‘A tough blow’

Dr. Jim Schroeder, vice president of Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center’s Department of Psychology and Wellness, said students and teachers feel a lot of pressure when it comes to test-taking and performance measures. 

He said students are put in a pressured environment and are aware of tests at a very early age. It’s communicated that scores are important to the school, and the schools work hard to prepare them for the tests, Schroeder said.

He said he understands the importance of exams but wonders how the recent disappointment is affecting schools’ morale. 

“Anytime you put such a heavy emphasis on an activity (and) whenever something doesn’t work out very well… that’s kind of a tough blow,” he said. “If we see an activity that’s important and we don’t do well, human nature is going to be disappointed with that.”

‘Centered around the test’

Black said her child was often overwhelmed by the pressures that came with taking the statewide assessment. She said he suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and this past spring was the first time she considered opting her child out of the ILEARN exam.

“We reached a point where I really considered, as we got closer and his anxiety got worse, if the test was really going to be beneficial for him to take or was it something we needed to exempt him from,” she said. “We had him take it, and it was fine, but the lead up to it was just so long and drawn out, it really wore on (him.)”

Boonville Middle School parent Robin Lockyear said she always opts her students out during statewide assessments.

“We feel that the whole school year is centered around preparing for that test,” she said. “They are lacking teaching other things because of preparation for that test. We opted out last year, and our principal backed us up on it.”

She said she wished more parents would opt out for this reason in order to get some attention on the matter.

To offset some of these pressures, Schroeder said school districts should “systematically feature what different schools are doing” and show positive things across the district. 

“Even if the test scores aren’t what we’d like them to be, let’s not forget there’s a lot of good things going on and a lot of opportunities,” he said. “I would just encourage every school district (to) make sure they’re putting as much time into featuring many different things that are going on throughout all the schools as we are at reporting on the grades that come through.”

Going forward, Schroeder said all districts across the state should make a collective effort to improve all students’ test scores and overall performance, not just their own. Rather than have schools place their individual accomplishments or failures at the center, he said, teachers and administrators should focus on the entire district’s progress.

“I wish that we kind of looked at it as a broader community focus instead of trying to work so hard to sell our individual schools, whether public or private. I wish we would work better together to figure out how all schools can improve their performance no matter where they are,” he said.

As for the results for future standardized tests, Woebkenberg said implementing a new system that accounts for more than just one measure will restore the confidence lost by EVSC students, parents, teachers and others throughout the state.

— Courier & Press (add. Saegan March)

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