Indiana’s new standardized test, ILEARN, may be new and even “computer adaptive,” but it has at least one thing in common with its predecessor ISTEP+. Scores on ILEARN correspond to socioeconomic status. Put simply: The poorer the families served by your school, the poorer your school will perform on the test. Shocking, we know.
Some news reports about the test talk just about the overall low scores. Others go skin deep by comparing the average scores of schools and districts. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that this test—despite its price tag of $45 million—delivers more of the same.
For example, take the 20 schools with the highest ILEARN averages, clustered in the upper left of the following graph. Minus two outliers (one of which had only 30 students take the test), the top-performing schools had 0 to 25% of students qualifying for free lunch, and in half of those schools, fewer than 5% qualified for free lunch. The free lunch rate is an indicator of the poverty level of the population served by a school; across Indiana, the average free lunch rate is 40%. Two of these top-scoring schools—both religious schools that received vouchers—had 0% of students qualify for free lunch.
When you look at schools in Monroe County—public, charter, and private—you will see a textbook-worthy example of statistical correlation.
And to hint back at our voucher blog post, here are the ILEARN averages of schools in the Archdiocese of Evansville presented against those of the local public school district, Evansville-Vanderburgh. Look at this graph and ask yourself if this merited the headline, “EVSC below state ILEARN average while Warrick, Catholic schools above.”
We’ve combined the ILEARN data with free lunch data for schools across Indiana here (the source for both is the IDOE; ILEARN was administered to grades 3-8 so only those schools are included). This is the resulting scatterplot:
We invite you to explore this data and share what you learn with the editor and education reporter of your local paper—if you are lucky enough to have a local paper—and with your state senator and representative.
Maybe next year, instead of headlines like, “X schools score well, Y schools score badly,” we'll see headlines like “ILEARN scores reflect wealth and poverty—again.” (See, for instance, this coverage in Ohio in 2017.)
Is the important question “How can we improve schools' ILEARN scores?”
Or do we need an array of questions? Such as:
Now those might just lead to an actual accountability system.
–Keri Miksza and Jenny Robinson
P.S. For those who would like the statistical nitty gritty, Pete Miksza has explained the following to us:
Pearson correlation coefficient r = -.70. There is a strong negative (e.g., inverse) relationship between free lunch qualification and ILEARN proficiency. Those schools that have the most free lunch students also have the lowest ILEARN proficiency rates, and vice versa.
On average, schools experience a .70 percentage point drop in proficiency with each percentage point increase in free lunch qualification. Each 5% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 3.5 point decrease in proficiency. Each 10% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 7 point decrease in proficiency. Etc.
Pearson correlation coefficient r = -.91. There is an extremely strong negative (e.g., inverse) relationship between free lunch qualification and ILEARN proficiency. Those schools that have the most free lunch students also have the lowest ILEARN proficiency rates, and vice versa.
On average, schools experience a .65 percentage point drop in proficiency with each percentage point increase in free lunch qualification. Each 5% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 3.25 point decrease in proficiency. Each 10% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 6.5 point decrease in proficiency. Etc.
The Pearson correlation coefficient r = -.74. There is a strong negative (e.g., inverse) relationship between free lunch qualification and ILEARN proficiency. Those schools that have the most free lunch students also have the lowest ILEARN proficiency rates, and vice versa.
On average, schools experience a .56 percentage point drop in proficiency with each percentage point increase in free lunch qualification. Each 5% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 2.5 point decrease in proficiency. Each 10% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 5 point decrease in proficiency.
School voucher funds in Indiana go overwhelmingly to religious schools. While that fact has been apparent and reported upon for years, the degree to which voucher money supports religious institutions deserves renewed public attention in the wake of the demand by the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that schools under his purview fire teachers in same-sex marriages.
Discrimination against married gay employees is out in the open now. Racial segregation, whether produced through intention or structural factors, is also a fact. For instance, Roncalli High School—which fired two married gay counselors—had three black students in a student body of more than 1,000 in 2018–19 (public schools in the neighborhood had 7% and 12% black students). And discrimination is built into the practices that we tend to take for granted about private schools. They can limit enrollment to families who subscribe to their religious beliefs. They can steer away students with special needs.
The Indiana Department of Education releases an annual report (the Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report) that shows state expenditures on the voucher program. In 2018–19, Indiana taxpayers spent $161 million to send the children of qualifying families to private schools. Of that $161 million, less than six tenths of a percent (about $930,000) went to secular schools. Put another way, 99.4% of voucher money is going to religious schools.
How do we know? Our organizations, the state-level Indiana Coalition for Public Education (ICPE) in Indianapolis and ICPE–Monroe County, pored over the IDOE data in the choice scholarship report; you can explore our organization of that data here. Many schools’ names advertise their religious affiliation. Catholic schools make up 45% of voucher-receiving schools, with 67 in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis ($38.6 million in 2018-19), 26 in the Diocese of Evansville ($7.8 million in 2018-19), 20 in the Diocese of Gary ($10.9 million in 2018-19), 17 in the Diocese of Lafayette ($5.3 million in 2018-19), and 43 in the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend ($28.7 million in 2018-19). There are 44 schools listed as part of Lutheran Schools of Indiana ($14.3 million in 2018-19). Of the 127 schools categorized as Independent Non-Public Schools, the names of most are explicitly religious, with Christian, Baptist, or Faith in their names. Fewer than ten are Jewish or Muslim. In the small number of cases that were not identified as religious through their names, we visited the school websites. Our examination of the IDOE data indicates that there were eleven nonreligious private schools participating in the voucher program in 2018-19. Since some of these had fewer than ten, if any, students receiving voucher funding, the amount received was withheld due to FERPA laws.
And what happens when that state funding is electronically transferred to the school bank accounts directly from the Indiana Department of Education? Since there are no financial reporting requirements for voucher schools, Indiana’s citizens have no way of knowing. Unlike public schools, which are held to transparency standards, private schools do not publish budgets and are not subject to public records requests. Neither are the private schools receiving vouchers audited by the State Board of Accounts. Are schools spending the money on teachers, curricular materials, and academic programs? Are they constructing new buildings, like the St. Nicholas School in Ripley County?
Are they directing some of it to the churches that historically supported them? Are they providing deserved benefits to their employees or outsized salaries for administrators? The legislators who lifted the voucher legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council model bill did not think the public deserved to know.
—Keri Miksza, Jenny Robinson, and MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger
On Saturday, August 24, state-level Indiana Coalition for Public Education held its annual meeting.
Marilyn Shank welcomed those assembled and introduced ICPE’s new president, Cathy Fuentes- Rohwer.
You can read Cathy's speech here.
1. ICPE’s board members are a powerful group of people:
Share our beliefs? Join us!
The keynote speakers were John Ellis and Michael Shaffer, authors of the book Unraveling Reform Rhetoric: What Educators Need to Know and Understand. You can buy it here.
Their presentation can be viewed here.
Marilyn Shank presented on behalf of ICPE lobbyist, Joel Hand. The ICPE legislative update slides can be seen here.
The last group that answered questions from the audience were:
The Q&A can be viewed here.