ILEARN Results Op-Ed 2019

ILEARN Results Op-Ed August 2019
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Superintendents news conference
August 26, 2019

The Indiana Department of Education plans to publicly release aggregate scores for schools and districts throughout the state on or after Sept. 4. ILEARN is the state-mandated test that replaced ISTEP. ILEARN represents the sixth time the state tests, the state standards tested on the state tests, or the company administering the state tests has changed since 2009, and the third change since 2015. Each change resulted in a new state-defined passing score. For many reasons, particularly because the criteria for “passing” continuously changes, the “passing” results are arbitrary.

Schools and districts have been informed that the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the newly-defined “passing” scores is much lower than in previous years. The lower scores do not reflect a lack of performance by our students, our teachers, or our schools. Instead, the lower test scores highlight the misuse of standardized tests and the fallacy of one-size-fits-all testing and accountability systems. Indiana began implementing the fallacy with the enactment of PL 221 more than 20 years ago. In 2001, all states were required to implement the fallacy after the passage of the federal law, No Child Left Behind.

ILEARN is a standardized test. ILEARN test scores do not signify what any child knows or does not know, nor do ILEARN scores signify what a child is or is not capable of achieving. Instead, these scores signify how a child compares, at a moment in time, to other Indiana children who took the test. Combining all standardized test scores of all children who took the test generates a normal curve. The normal curve identifies an average score. A standard deviation value from the average score can be calculated for each individual score. In Indiana, the historical trend is to establish a new state-defined passing score each time there is a change in the state test or a change in the manner the test is administered. In nearly every instance, the new state-defined passing score is a score associated with a greater standard deviation value resulting in the state labeling more children as failures.

Rest assured, despite a lower percentage of students achieving a passing score, our students continue to demonstrate progress towards becoming leading members of our community. For example, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is another government-mandated standardized test, signify continued progress on student achievement. On the most recent NAEP, Indiana’s fourth graders earned the third highest mathematics scores and tied for eighth among all states in reading. Whereas, Indiana’s eighth graders tied for sixth in reading and tied for ninth among all states in mathematics. All of Indiana’s most recent reading and mathematics scores, for both fourth and eighth graders, were significantly higher than the national average. Compared to previous administrations of NAEP, Indiana’s eighth grade reading scores are significantly greater than previous administrations of NAEP and fourth grade reading scores are about the same. In mathematics, Indiana’s previous scores were similar to the most recent scores for both fourth and eighth graders. The NAEP results contradict the ILEARN scores and certainly do not indicate a lack of performance by our students, our teachers, or our schools.

Although NAEP scores reveal that ILEARN scores are outliers, it is irrelevant to the big picture goal of developing the talent and nurturing the creativity of each child. We believe each child we are blessed to serve is uniquely talented. These unique talents develop at different rates. We believe, as written in “The End of Average: Unlocking Our Potential by Embracing What Makes Us Different,” by Harvard researcher Dr. Todd Rose, “There is no such thing as average body size, … average talent, average intelligence, or average character.” A few of our children’s unique talents are measured by standardized tests, the vast majority of them are not. Wasting time and financial resources each year to perpetuate the fallacy of standardizing children needs to stop. We need to reinvest these resources into developing the unique talents and nurturing the creativity of our state’s children.

Children are not widgets. They do not respond identically to various instructional activities, nor do they learn at linear rates. However, children are complex beings influenced by their interests, past experiences, surroundings, and by the context of their micro and macro communities in which they develop. For most, the formal process of building a child’s academic foundation is a thirteen-year journey that begins in kindergarten and continues through high school graduation. Life after high school requires us to adapt to changing family needs, interests, technologies, economic conditions, and local and global events by engaging in additional formal and informal educational opportunities. The additional education may lead to an earned degree, certificate, or advanced job-specific skills through a combination of college or university courses, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, or other available learning opportunities. In other words, the needs of learners evolve and change over time.

Great educators recognize the changing and varying needs of children and adjust their methods for engaging, supporting, and challenging them accordingly. Great educators do not allow standardized tests to dictate the needs of children, nor do they allow children to be standardized. If you concur and believe we need to reinvest time and financial resources into developing the talents of each child, we need your help. To stop perpetuating the fallacy of state-mandated testing, we need your help. We need your help in demanding that policymakers reduce and de-emphasize state-mandated testing. We need your help in demanding that policy-makers refocus on investing in the development of the many unique talents possessed by each child. To learn more about how you can influence state education policy, please watch for and plan to attend upcoming events intended to increase our community’s knowledge of education policy. 

We are blessed to serve the children in our community. We thank our community for entrusting us to build a foundation so each child can achieve her/his dreams and become our community’s next generation of leaders.


Chris Himsel, PhD
Northwest Allen County Schools