Test scores show progress, but Indiana students still behind

About 30% of Hoosier students passed the ILEARN math and English tests

By: - July 14, 2022 7:00 am

(From the Indiana Department of Education)

Indiana students’ passing rates on state standardized tests showed small improvements this year after dropping in 2021, results released Wednesday show.

But state officials said many students are not making academic rebounds fast enough to catch up from the class time they missed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results of this year’s spring tests for grades 3-8 showed that 30.2% of Hoosier students passed both the math and English sections of ILEARN.

By the numbers

While the results are an increase of 1.6 percentage points compared to 2021, passing scores trail up to 8 percentage points behind 2019′s pre-pandemic pass rates.

The statewide percentage of students who met their grade-level expectations for math in the 2021-22 academic year rose to 39.4% from last year′s 36.9%.

(From the Indiana Department of Education)

The state reported 41.2% of students passed the English exam. That’s up from 40.5% a year ago.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner commended teachers and students for their progress made since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for working to overcome disruptions to classrooms.

“Today we’re seeing the positive collective impact we can have when educators, communities and families come together to support our students’ learning,” Jenner said in a statement. “At the same time, we must continue to aggressively pursue innovative solutions to best support all of our students, especially our students who are still overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic, as well as students who were underperforming prior to the pandemic.”

Concerns about future student progress

But State Board of Education member Scott Bess, the executive director of Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis, said during the board’s meeting Wednesday that ongoing, “systematic” issues are prohibiting academic progress for Black and Hispanic students.

Black students reported the lowest 2022 pass rates at 19% in English and 14% in math. 

Proficiency rates for Hispanic students and English language learners also remain “significantly below their grade level peers and their academic growth is not at the pace of other student populations,” according to a National Center for Assessment study of ILEARN scores over the last two years. 

Asian students had the highest ILEARN scores, with 57% passing the English exam, and 58% passing the math exam. White students had a 48% proficiency in English and 47% in math.

Bess added that he’s “anxious” about the incoming cohort of third graders, who have spent their entire academic career in the pandemic.

“The number of students going into post secondary is dropping off,” he said, referring to Indiana’s dismal college-going rate for high school graduates. “If we don’t solve this in third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade — we have no shot at improving those numbers.”

Officials at the Indiana Department of Education additionally indicated that some student groups — like English language learners — might continue to experience “significant gaps” compared to the general student population if there isn’t more “meaningful intervention.”

“Academic recovery will require multiple years of accelerated learning to make sure that every Indiana student has the opportunity to achieve success, and every student will require different levels and types of support to get back on track,” the department said in a statement Wednesday.

What needs to be done

Bess called for increased spending on schools in the next state budget, which lawmakers will begin crafting during the 2023 legislative session. Addressing learning losses, he continued, needs to be a “priority.”

Jenner maintained that the state will need to “triple down” on reading recovery programs. She noted that Indiana’s education department is finalizing plans for a “micro-grant” program for parents to access tutoring help for their kids, too.

Chief academic officer Charity Flores said the state education department also plans to launch a coaching program this summer that will see a wave of reading specialists placed in 70 Indiana schools.

State officials said Wednesday they plan to use the analysis of ILEARN scores to craft student-specific responses in an effort to boost academic progress and further mitigate learning loss brought on by the pandemic. Individual schools and school districts are encouraged to do the same.

ILEARN was first implemented in 2019 to replace the ISTEP exam for students from third to eighth grade. The exam measures proficiency in various subjects starting in third grade, but the main focus is on English/language arts and mathematics. 

With federal permission, the assessment was not given in 2020 due to pandemic-related school closures.


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.