Teachers, parents hopeful that new ILEARN test will help students take next step

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, Indiana students will take a new assessment test called “Indiana’s Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network” or ILEARN for short.

ILEARN is scheduled to replace ISTEP+, a test that evaluates third through eighth graders' education progress.

Legislators introduced the idea more than a year ago, saying ISTEP+ wasn’t working. Teachers complained that the test carried too much weight--especially in teacher evaluations--took too long and didn’t return results quickly enough to affect students’ education.

“Currently, the results pretty much don’t mean anything,” Teresa Meredith, the Indiana State Teachers Association president, told CBS4.

Meredith pointed to the fact that the state has changed testing methods three times in 10 years. She’s frustrated that there is such a big focus on testing rather than a love of learning.

“Creating a culture of testing? That should alarm us all. That is not anything we should be creating at any school in this country,” she said.

CBS4 wanted to know what the biggest differences will be for students as they transition from ISTEP+ to ILEARN.

State Rep. Bob Behning, who is also the House education chairman, pointed out three improvements. First, he said, ILEARN will be a computer-based adaptive test, meaning the test questions will change based on a student’s performance.

“As you answer a question, if you get a question right it will go into more rigorous question and keep ratcheting up or go down,” he explained. “They have to have a baseline that is created. There are bands, so for instance, this is how you have to do in this particular band to demonstrate proficiency.”

Another difference with ILEARN that students and teachers statewide will notice is that the test will be shorter than ISTEP+. Behning said students will take benchmark assessments throughout the year to prepare. The big exam would be at the end of the year, rather than in the middle.

The third and perhaps the biggest difference is something teachers asked for. ILEARN is expected to return test results a lot quicker. Behning said grades would be back in a matter of weeks rather than months.

“We wanted to make sure the results were returned timely so they could be actionable in the summer,” Behning explained. “Administrators could use it as well as parents for remediation.”

Teachers hope that is true. They also hope the results will be show a more in-depth analysis of a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

“That’s the kind of data teachers need,” Meredith said.

Teachers are cautiously optimistic but also concerned. They don’t want a new version of the “same old thing,” and keep referring to the amount of testing their students already take, which Meredith says is 30-60 days a year.

“Out of a 180 day school year, that’s a lot of time! That is a significant amount of time,” she said. “Parents need to be worried about that.”

Parents are speaking up.

“I feel like there’s too much,” said Marie Madden, a parent of three who said the testing stresses out her children. “It’s a downhill spiral.”

Madden thinks the changes will help. She said it would be great to know what her kids need to work on so that they can spend more time on those subjects.

ILEARN will test language arts, reading, math, science and social studies. The teacher’s union says it would be the first time all five subjects would be regularly tested in all grades.

When asked if he had any concerns about the transition, Behning said it could be a bit of a logistics challenge since schools have to have access to computers and internet for each student to take the adaptive exams. The state plans to work with teacher prep programs to show how to get the assessments going and then how to appropriately use the grade information once it’s back.

“Whenever you do a new assessment--it’s a new instrument--you’re probably going to have a little bit of an interruption. I think that’s something else the department must do is kind of prepare people,” he said.

Behning said it’s possible and probably even likely that first year scores will be a bit rocky. The first year with a new test is always a difficult transitional period.

Indiana’s Department of Education said it was too early in the process to comment, as the state is still negotiating with the company who will create the new exams. CBS4 requested a sample assessment from the American Institute for Research, the company in question, but a spokesperson said they have not yet started. She promised to send one once it’s done.