South Bend Schools superintendent said ISTEP scores are an unfair and inaccurate way to compare school corporations. Dr. Carole Schmidt also said she's bothered by the emphasis the state puts on those comparisons.
South Bend Community School Corporation had the lowest average scores in our area. Just 59.1 percent of South Bend students passed the ISTEPS in the 2013-2014 school year. Elkhart is just shy of 65 percent passing and School City of Mishawaka's proficiency rate is about 75 percent. Penn Harris Madison shows nearly 88 percent of students passing the test, representing the top 1 percent of students in the state.
The state wide proficiency average is about 75 percent.
"The achievement gaps aren't caused by schools," said Bill Carbonardo, Notre Dame Professor of Sociology and assistant director of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity. "They're caused by differences in family background and you see that by comparing a less affluent community like South Bend with one that's more affluent like Granger and outlying areas."
Carbonaro said low ISTEP scores across the board in South Bend are concerning but reflect on the community more than the school system.
"Most of those test gaps are there at the beginning of kindergarten when kids begin school," he added.
"We can't put everything on one test score. We just can't," Schmidt said, adding the focus should be on learning and student growth.
"We can control what happens to these children when they come in our door and when they leave in the afternoon," she added. "So we're focusing totally on that. And then to put us in comparison to everyone else, the context is not the same. It's not the same for South Bend, it's not the same for Penn, it's not the same for Mishawaka."
Schmidt also said ISTEPS are not an accurate way to gauge how a classroom, school or corporation is doing because it the test puts tremendous stress on teachers and creates an unfair learning environment.
She said she would rather see three different tests given at the beginning, middle and end of each year to measure student growth, but added it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and be paid for by the state.
Carbonaro said another way to improve test scores long term is with state mandated and funded preschool and early childhood development programs.
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