Officials with the Vincennes Community School Corp. are moving forward aggressively with an appeal of what they say are faulty ISTEP scores at Clark Middle School, and they believe they have the evidence to bolster their case and get the state Department of Education to take notice.
Some Clark scores, especially in math, took a significant drop from the year before, and when they first saw the results principal Ryan Clark and assistant principal Melissa Pancake immediately went to work trying to figure out just what went wrong.
School-wide, math scores fell by 12 percent. But sixth-graders took the hit the hardest, falling in math by almost 30 percent.
Clark officials weren’t ready for such a decline. All students had already been tested using an assessment provided by the same company responsible for the ISTEP test, CBT/McGraw-Hill. Those results indicated that students at Clark should have improved.
The same assessments also predicted the increases seen at the elementary level, according to superintendent Greg Parsley.
“Our Acuity test, which is a predictor test published by McGraw-Hill, gave indicators that we were going to have good things to talk about with the elementary schools,” he said. “And the same thing was there with the middle school. We didn’t expect to see the same kind of jumps, but we were expecting to see a slight increase, at least a following along of the trends of other state schools.”
But the real piece of convincing evidence, Parsley said, has only recently surfaced.
Pancake and Clark looked at a specific group of sixth-graders who last year performed very well in the math portion of the test as fifth-graders.
This year, however, some of them didn’t perform well at all, and in certain cases students that were high performers last year actually got zeros on the easiest portion of the math test.
The same sixth-grade classroom also experienced the most computer trouble during the testing, which has been a point of contention statewide. McGraw-Hill's servers crashed during the test, with some students losing all their work and, in other cases, not being able to log back I and continue.
A review of the situation claimed that there was no significant impact on students as a result of the McGraw-Hill problems, although some 1,400 test results — including the results of two Clark students — have been thrown out.
The results of another Clark sixth-grade classroom, one that experienced few computer problems, had few low-performing students and even fewer zero scores.
“There should have been little to no differences as to how these students tested one year to the next,” Parsley said. “I think this is our most-telling piece of evidence, and we have submitted it, along with a lot more, to the state.”
New state superintendent of public instruction Glenda Ritz, since taking office, has assigned outreach coordinators to different portions of Indiana, so Parsley has been working closely with the VCSC’s to get information to the DOE.
And this coordinator, Parsley said, believes something is likely wrong with Clark’s scores.
Parsley believes answers that should have been recorded simply weren’t. While being kicked off the system may have caused some kids frustration, he doesn’t believe it would have caused the problems in the scores they have seen.
This seems more like some kind of computer glitch.
“We just want any mistakes corrected,” Parsley said. “We just want it fixed. That’s all we’re asking for.”
State Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, also a chemistry teacher at Lincoln High School, said he’d been keeping in close contact both with officials at VCSC and with the DOE. He, too, after looking at the data, believes something went wrong.
“I don’t see how any reasonable person could look at this information and not see clear testing anomalies,” he said. “I’m not asking (the DOE) to break any rules, nor is the VCSC, we’re just asking them to use a little dash of common sense.
“We have kids that literally have never ever done poorly on tests of any kind receiving zeroes, not only on part of the test but the easiest part of the test even,” he said. “You can look at the harder areas, and they’re doing fine.”
Battles serves on the General Assembly’s state education commission, which heard from McGraw Hill officials over the summer about why students were kicked off the test. Testing had to be suspended at Clark Middle School — and several others across the state — while McGraw Hill upgraded its servers to handle the load.
Battles said McGraw Hill mentioned several “hot spots” across the state, schools and even grade levels that saw the most problems when it came to having access to the online test.
The sixth-grade at Clark, he said, was one of those hot spots.
“I have confidence that the DOE will come up with something that is appropriate,” he said. “But the problem is, how do you figure out what is appropriate?
“But whatever grade is assigned to that middle school can’t be accurate,” he went on. “The bottom line is that it’s based on faulty information, and it must be adjusted somehow.
State DOE officials were careful to say Wednesday that the ISTEP scores were still “preliminary” and that all appeals, given the problems with the test and the delay in results, would be considered before they are declared final.