New Indiana ‘Checkpoint’ Tests To Give Mid-Year Snapshots of Student Progress

Indiana will give state ILEARN tests four times a year in pilot to help teachers see where students lag and catch them up.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice/The 74

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Indiana will soon try to end a common criticism of state tests  — that results come back too late for teachers to help students fix what they didn’t learn.

About 600 schools have joined a pilot program to give Indiana’s Learning Evaluation and Assessment Readiness Network (ILEARN) tests in four stages next school year, instead of just end-of-year tests that are used for state report cards. 

In the pilot, the state will give three new “checkpoint” math and English tests spread through the school year to third- through eighth-graders that let teachers see right away how well students perform, allowing lessons to be adjusted.

“The checkpoints will be very intentionally for the school…the local teacher…to improve the learning in that classroom,” said Indiana state education superintendent Katie Jenner.

The mid-year scores won’t be reported publicly or count toward school or district report cards, which will remain based on the end of year tests.

“It’s not punitive,” Jenner told the state school board. “It’s in support of student learning, which is why we’re all here.”

The checkpoint tests will fill much of the role of the diagnostic tests districts buy from private providers and regularly use during the year, like NWEA’s Measures of Academic Promise (MAP) tests and Edmenutum’s Exact Path tests, state officials said.State Rep. Bob Behning, author of a bill passed this spring giving final authorization of the pilot.

“I frequently hear education leaders complain about the fact that their kids look like they’re doing great, but when they take ILEARN, they don’t,” said Behning. “The reality is this test will be aligned directly to statewide assessments, so there will be that much more correlation and much more predictability.”

If the checkpoint tests go well, he said, the state might stop giving more than $14 million in grants each year to districts to pay for other diagnostic tests, which it has done since 2015. Districts could use just the free ILEARN checkpoints and stop buying other tests.

“We know already that some of the benchmark providers are not happy with this direction,” Behning said.

Kevin Briody, chief marketing officer for Edmentum, one of a handful of vendors approved for grant money, did not object to the new tests and said his company supports improving tests to help teachers.

NWEA representatives, however, would not answer whether their company is worried about losing business.

Mid-year standardized tests are common nationally and go by several names-— diagnostic, formative or through-year tests. Though districts often pay for such tests on their own, Indiana is one of 13 states either using or exploring a plan to give them, according to a report by Education First, an education advocacy organization.

That report, cited by Indiana Department of Education officials in presentations on the plan, was partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. 

How states use through-year tests varies, though most, like Indiana, use just the final test to rate schools and districts. A few states  — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and Montana  — are considering or using results from all tests during the year to set a final student school and district rating, that report found. 

According to the plan outlined to Indiana’s state school board last year, the “checkpoint” tests will be given every nine or 10 weeks during the school year with flexibility for districts to pick testing days. 

Each test will have 25 to 30 questions covering four to seven learning standards in the subject.

At each checkpoint test, students and teachers will see if they are on-track or off-track for passing the final test as well as how they compare to other students in the state.

Students who “fail” a checkpoint test can receive help in tested skills and re-take the test later to see if they have learned them.

Giving students a chance to re-learn skills and then be tested on them again is a step toward schools potentially using a “mastery” or “competency” learning and grading system, a concept with growing support among some state officials. Such systems have students keep working on skills until they “master” them, rather than having a class move on to other material after a set period of time and just giving low grades to students that lag behind.

“If a school really wanted to get into a true kind of mastery, competency-based (approach), they could use these assessments to really understand where students are at different points and act accordingly,” said state school board member Scott Bess.

So far, the tests seem to have support statewide. The state’s plan to make the final, year-end ILEARN test shorter because of the added tests eased concerns about testing taking too much time, said Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.

“It makes kind of good sense, so we’ll be supportive of that for sure,” he said.

Disclosure: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to The 74.

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