Some Wayne County educators are relieved that last year’s instructional changes boosted their student’s state-mandated standardized test scores, while all say they’ll analyze their districts’ weaknesses and target improvements to score better next year.
Statewide, 40.7% of Hoosier students who took the Indiana Learning Evaluation and Assessment Readiness Network (ILEARN) test in 2023 were at or above proficiency standards in English/language arts. Just a few more, 40.9%, were proficient in math.
ILEARN judges students’ skills in English/language arts and math in grades 3-8, science in grades 4 and 6, social studies in grade 5, and U.S. government and biology in high school.
Most news releases from the Indiana Department of Education regarding ILEARN focus on language and math scores.
Hoosier educators are concerned about the pandemic’s continued impact on student achievement, noting that missed lessons in previous years can hinder connections with today’s instruction.
“Every year in the life of a child is essential to their continued growth and development, and we have no time to waste,” said Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner as she announced Aug. 10 that a statewide grant program is expanding to offer more qualifying students $1,000 for tutoring. The program now will serve both middle school and elementary families who apply.
When considering Wayne County’s public school districts as a whole, Northeastern led in English/language arts scores, and Centerville-Abington led in math. Centerville also had the highest combined proficiency percentage, with 32.2% proficiency in both subjects.
When the results of all ages eligible for the test are combined at each Wayne County school district, Community Christian School in Richmond had the highest proficiency percentage for any area school on one portion of the test, with 67.5% proficiency on the English/language arts test. Seton Catholic in Richmond followed with 55.4% proficiency on ELA.
Western Wayne officials said they were “extremely excited” about their elementary students’ scores this year. Western Wayne Elementary showed the county’s highest proficiency in ELA — and students proficient in both ELA and math — for the age group it teaches. Last year, WWE served preschool through grade 5, but has expanded this fall to keep its sixth graders.
State education officials said many students’ learning is stabilizing or recovering after the pandemic, but targeted interventions must continue to accelerate academic momentum, especially among certain grade cohorts and student populations.
Many students need support in ELA, especially middle school and English Learner students, Jenner said. She advocates a continued prioritization of literacy instruction, rooted in the science of reading, and high-quality science, technology, engineering and math.
“It also will be essential for our local schools to continue to work with parents, families and community partners to provide strategic, targeted opportunities for students who need additional support,” Jenner said in a news release.
Statewide results showed a modest increase in math across all grade levels, with the highest increase in grade 6 (nearly 3%).
Local school superintendents had a variety of reactions to the results.
Superintendent Andy Stover shared what he called the Cambridge City schools’ most striking ILEARN results: the sixth and seventh grade classes continue to score below average, and the fourth grade beat state averages in both English/language arts and math.
Proficiency rates for students now in sixth and seventh grades have been substantially below state averages since COVID, he said.
“Post pandemic, scores have been lower, and we are trying to bridge that gap,” Stover said.
For the seventh grade, 18% of Lincoln Middle School students showed proficiency in English/language arts, compared to 40% statewide; in math, 9% of Lincoln students showed proficiency compared to 33% statewide.
In both cases, the proficiency rate was lower than when the same students were in sixth grade.
In sixth grade for the 2022-23 year, 32% showed proficiency in ELA compared to 41% statewide; in math, Lincoln had 27% showing proficiency compared to 38% statewide.
“Math is brutally sequential,” Stover said, and the low scoring can be attributed to students missing school during COVID. “When you miss a concept in third or fourth grades, the more advanced you get, the more it shows. In algebra, for instance, if you miss basic math in fifth grade – multiplication, division, basic math – you’re not going to be able to do well in algebra.”
Most of Western Wayne’s grade levels scored within a few points of state averages. In fact, the fourth grade beat state averages in both ELA (41% at Western Wayne and 40% statewide) and math (51% at Western Wayne, 49% statewide).
The schools adopted a standardized testing system called I-Ready two years ago. That test gives educators an early idea of how students are doing on a test similar to ILEARN. They can then try to address weaknesses before students take ILEARN.
Western Wayne is trying to address the gap through a tutoring partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County, which operates the Wayne Bank Unit in the district’s administration building; a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) and Response to Intervention Services that offers specific kinds of support to individual students.
Superintendent Matthew Hicks acknowledged ILEARN scores show strengths and weaknesses for the Fountain City district.
Hicks said that Northeastern’s language arts and science continue to be areas of strength compared with its math scores. The Knights have room for improvement in math, specifically in the sixth grade cohort, he noted.
To address any weaknesses, Northeastern will continue to work on developing our teachers through professional development. He said they also are working in small groups to try to fill some of the skill deficits of students who struggle the most.
Northeastern has a developing Multi-Tiered System of Supports program that will help educators identify students in need of help, Hicks said, and they will continue to work hard to fill the gaps.
“Many students struggle to take tests, and these are only a partial measure of the good work being done by our students and teachers on a daily basis,” Hicks said.
Superintendent Emily Schaeffer said Hagerstown Elementary saw growth in the areas that Nettle Creek School Corp. educators had really targeted, which were number sense and computation.
Schaeffer said the Instructional Leadership team will work to disaggregate the data and use it to set goals for the 2023-24 school year.
“We have found that students who become Nettle Creek students and stay through graduation perform better than our students who are transient, leave us and then come back,” she said.
At Hagerstown Junior-Senior High School, Schaeffer said administrators saw eighth graders earned tremendous achievements in English/Language Arts.
“All of the students are showing growth and making good progress towards competency,” Schaeffer said.
She noted the Instructional Leadership Team also would use data to set junior/senior high school goals and align yearlong teacher professional development with those goals.
Richmond Community Schools Superintendent Curtis Wright said district employees are working on three goals that should continually improve test results: an emphasis on professional development for teachers to improve instruction, systemic alignment and providing social and emotional support for students.
Wright noted that students aren’t immune from the “contemporary challenges” that Richmond, all of Wayne County and Indiana’s urban environments are experiencing, and that impacts their test performance. While celebrating its diversity, including a growing population of students with additional support needs, Wright said RCS also has the county’s highest percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced meals.
Wright expresses optimism that changes being made to improve RCS’ organizational health and ensure a strong foundational bedrock will result in healthy schools and thus higher student achievement.
He acknowledges that RCS has areas where improvement is needed, and educators are working extremely hard to identify those areas and tailor lessons to meet students’ needs.
For instance, Wright said it’s no secret that Dennis Middle School has had challenges, and administrators are intentionally focusing on that school.
The Richmond High School graduate is beginning his third year of leading RCS, which had heavy employee turnover among administrators and teachers to start 2022-2023. He’s glad that every principal is back this fall, and more than 90% of teachers have returned to continue their momentum.
Despite some low scores, Wright said he sees positives across the district upon a deeper dive into ILEARN data. He’s pleased that some RCS students are outperforming those in other schools within the county and state. Wright said RCS’ gains in particular areas the past two years have been exponential compared to previous years.
He’s confident that the administrative team and teachers are “chomping at the bit to improve and showcase what we have to offer.”
Superintendent Mike McCoy said this year’s data was interesting in several ways.
When comparing ILEARN performance across fellow schools in the Tri-Eastern Conference, Centerville students were either at the top or close to it in most areas, but in a couple, they were ranked fifth or sixth.
Those lower performances raised some red flags for analysis, and McCoy noted that there was some teacher turnover in the district last year that could have played a part.
Performances by some third- and fourth graders were much higher than others. McCoy said he wonders if some students are struggling with transitioning to that type of test, but he said since other Indiana schools are doing well, “we’ve got to figure it out.”
McCoy said teachers plan to address some gaps in math occurring for third- and fourth graders and math and science scores for sixth graders.
He wants to boost professional development opportunities, helping newer teachers learn from the district’s own experts, because CACS already has “great teachers here,” McCoy said.
He also wants to make sure vertical teams are collaborating so that anyone teaching a subject is communicating with colleagues about what’s being taught at various grade levels.
Centerville-Abington Community Schools also has accepted a higher percentage of transfer students in recent years, so their earlier instructional background is less clear. However, McCoy said it’s then CACS’ responsibility to focus on each student, no matter their current level, and determine their needs.
McCoy also will monitor progress as teachers transition into using additional research on optimal early literacy techniques, called the science of reading. A new state law mandates its use.
He said administrators have already been meeting and analyzing the latest ILEARN data to determine why students didn’t perform as well as they’d like and what can be done better.
McCoy balances test result negatives with knowing that during last year’s accreditation visit, reviewers were overwhelmingly positive about the district’s strong fundamentals.
McCoy remains committed to the goal he set for the district when he became its leader, to be the best around, not just the best in Wayne County.
“We’re getting there,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the August 16 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.