March 26, 2010

Archdiocese continues efforts to help students succeed in ISTEPs, academics

By John Shaughnessy

As many Catholic school students prepare for another round of ISTEP testing in April and May, two directions have become clear concerning Indiana’s standardized test for assessing students’ learning in math and language arts.

First, hoping to reach its goal of having 90 percent of Indiana children pass the tests by 2012, the Indiana Department of Public Instruction has adopted an approach similar to the one that has achieved success in Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

Secondly, the archdiocese—which already has a student passing rate of 89 percent for the two tests—will continue its efforts to increase the success of its students, maintain their high level of performance and even extend beyond it.

After 71 percent of Indiana students passed both math and language arts assessments in the spring of 2009, the Department of Public Instruction looked for ways to improve those results in the Indiana Statewide Testing of Educational Progress for public and private school students in grades three through eight. Part of its plan involves implementing an approach called a “growth model.”

“A growth model is a statistical model that predicts how well the student should be doing to make a year’s worth of academic growth from one year to the next year,” said Ronald Costello, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese. “The state has adopted a model like the one we’ve been following for three years.”

For the growth model to work, it also requires an understanding of student achievement and establishing academic growth expectations, according to Kathy Mears, the archdiocese’s assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in the areas of curriculum and learning resources.

“ISTEP scores measure proficiency—how much a student knows on a particular day,” Mears said. “Our students know lots. With progress measures, however, we know how much a student has learned. This is critical. Many of our students could pass their ISTEP on their first day of school. We want to know our students have learned each year.

“Through different statistical analyses, we can now show how much our students learned in different areas, what they have not learned and how to assist them to learn.”

With that statistical base, teachers and principals are able to change instruction, curriculum and lessons “to better meet the needs of our students and to insure that each child learns each year,” Mears said.

“If we know which children learned most successfully, we can study what the teachers who taught those children do—and share that information with their colleagues,” Mears noted.

“We can also match the gifts of various teachers to particular students. Some teachers are exemplary in meeting the needs of students who learn quickly, while others are better at teaching students who need a particular method of teaching. If we can better match students to teachers, we will be more effective with our students, resulting in increased learning and achievement.”

The archdiocese’s approach is not just reflected in its ISTEP scores, but also its graduation rate at the high school level—98.2 percent in 2009—according to Costello.

“It ties into our graduation rates, our kids going to college [97.4 percent in 2009], and our kids being successful there,” he said.

While the ISTEP scores, graduation rates and the percentage of Catholic high school graduates attending college show part of the success of Catholic schools, the quest to be even better continues, said Annette “Mickey” Lentz, executive director of Catholic education and faith formation for the archdiocese.

“Even the best have to get better,” Lentz said. “We educate the whole child—mind, body and spirit. Our results show we have quality teachers doing quality work with an outcome of excellent performance.

“It amazes me what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past eight years in the areas of assessment, accountability and growth. It shows the commitment we have as an archdiocese to our parents and to our children in offering them the very best of a Catholic education.” †

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