How bad was Indiana’s test score drop, really?

The news of the day has to do with ISTEP scores, which we now know dropped precipitously from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014-2015 school year.

In fact, the  pass rates went from 81 percent and 84 percent in English and math, respectively, to 67 and 61 percent. As many news stories across the state have told us, that’s a drop of more than 20 percentage points. (Editor’s note: journalists use “percentage points” because they aren’t so good at calculating percentages. As a recovering journalism major, I know this. There’s a whole 200-level course devoted to it.)

That’s no doubt a big drop, but it was expected. Indiana adopted more rigorous education standards in 2013, and with the harder standards come harder tests. It’s a Common Core thing, but in the interest of your sanity and mine, I won’t rehash that debate here. Google it if you want.

This “shocking” news, as well as the Cleveland Browns-level disaster that is ISTEP, has led the legislature to fasttrack a bill that won’t penalize teachers or schools for lower scores this year. Rightfully so, I might add.

But Indiana wasn’t the only state to start using a harder standardized test in 2014-2015. More than half of all states starting using a new assessment. So my first question when I read Indiana’s results was this:

How does our precipitous drop compare with other states’ precipitous drops?

The answer? We did pretty well, comparatively.

I compared the 2013-14 and 2014-15 test numbers from 27 states that changed tests this year, plus D.C. I also threw in Kentucky for good measure (they were the first state to switch tests back in 2012).

Indiana had the 2nd-lowest decline in English Language Arts (ELA) scores, and the 5th-lowest drop in Math. (Important note: Ohio fudged their numbers by changing what they deemed to be “proficient”, so we’d be 4th in Math if you tossed Ohio’s results. Sorry, Buckeyes.)

Nationwide drop in test scores

Source: Education Week

Indiana’s drop in English scores was 16 percent (this is percent…not percentage points). Only West Virginia’s insane 1.5 percent drop was better. The average (and median) decline was 37 percent. Georgia brought up the rear by falling 60 percent.


Source: Education Week

Hoosier students did slightly worse in math. Our decline was 27 percent. The extremes were Michigan (just under 10 percent) and Arkansas (67 percent). The mean and median drop was 42 percent.

Want the raw data? Scroll down a little further.

What can we learn from this? You can skip this part if you aren’t a super-nerd

There are several reasons why it’s important to know why the drops occurred and what they mean for us going forward. Let’s do a list.

  1. The scores we’re used to are probably hyper-inflated. The reason why the Common Core issue started was because our assessments of students weren’t lining up with what the real world was telling us. ISTEP told us 80+% of our kids were passing. Yet, remediation rates in our colleges were extremely high, and employers often reported new workers weren’t ready. So nearly everyone has raised their standards to hopefully match what kids these days really need to know.
  2. It could’ve been much, much worse. Indiana, controversially, created it’s own test to match it’s new standards. But before we officially pulled out of Common Core, our students were slated to use a test called PARCC. Nine of the 13 biggest drops in math, and eight of the 14 worst drops in ELA were PARCC states. Only Ohio (which fudged their numbers) and New Jersey (an outlier) fared respectably with PARCC. States that used Smarter Balanced (an alternative to PARCC) hold nearly all the top spots.
  3. Designing your own test is a mixed bag. Indiana, Kansas, Arizona, and Georgia designed their own tests. You can see their results are all over the board. The worst part is that you simply cannot compare these results with other states. Did Georgia students really go from being some of the best performing to some of the worst? Probably not; they probably just wrote a test that was too hard. But it’s impossible to know for sure, because it’s comparing apples to peaches (see what I did there?)
ELA Declines
State % Decrease Test
WV -1.5% SB
IN -16.0% Own
OH -17.6% PARCC
WA -21.9% SB
OR -23.4% SB
NH -23.6% SB
NJ -24.4% PARCC
CA -26.1% SB
VT -26.3% SB
MI -28.8% SB
DE -28.9% SB
ME -30.6% SB
CT -30.9% SB
HI -31.2% SB
SD -35.7% SB
IL -36.6% PARCC
CO -41.7% PARCC
ID -44.5% SB
LA -46.6% PARCC
MT -48.3% SB
RI -48.8% PARCC
SC -49.3% ACT
DC -51.0% PARCC
KS -51.0% Own
MS -52.3% PARCC
MD -52.4% PARCC
AZ -53.3% Own
AR -57.9% PARCC
GA -60.4% Own
Math Declines
State % Decrease Test
MI -9.7% SB
OH -15.5% PARCC
WA -18.2% SB
WV -25.4% SB
IN -26.6% Own
HI -29.6% SB
OR -30.5% SB
NH -31.7% SB
VT -33.9% SB
CA -35.4% SB
SC -35.9% ACT
ME -38.2% SB
AZ -41.4% Own
DE -41.5% SB
MT -42.0% SB
SD -43.9% SB
NJ -49.5% PARCC
ID -50.6% SB
IL -51.4% PARCC
CT -52.3% SB
MS -52.3% PARCC
RI -53.2% PARCC
CO -53.8% PARCC
GA -55.4% Own
DC -56.8% PARCC
KS -57.2% Own
LA -58.2% PARCC
MD -58.9% PARCC
AR -67.3% PARCC

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