Feature Stories


Measuring our schools

in search of what really matters

By Connie Haas Zuber
With intense attention on the quality of education received by our children, measuring our schools has become an industry.

A lot of numbers measuring a lot of esoteric-sounding things are produced by that industrious measuring effort, setting a new tone for school days today for children, teachers and administrators alike. The numbers matter — school funding and where parents send their children to school depend on them.

And how well children are educated matters most of all.

The quality of our public education — the most brightly shining staircase to America’s promise of opportunity for all — is of paramount importance not only to parents and children but also to civil society. The civic health and vitality of our cities big and small, of our rural areas and most densely populated urban areas, depends on the quality of the people who live and work there. And education makes the man, as John Locke argued in his 1693 treatise that dominated English, and later American, thinking about education for more than a century.

Specifically, in his “Some Thoughts Concerning Education,” Locke said “I think I may say that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.”

The stakes don’t get any higher than that for the health of civil society. 

So the question ever remains: How do we know if we are doing well enough?

Right now, the American civic conversation is embroiled in ongoing cultural and economic changes that have triggered grave doubt about the quality of public education. New concrete standards, like Indiana’s standardized testing program, have been created to drive improvement. Researchers are testing ideas and techniques both familiar and revolutionary and looking for ones that work. A significant “choice movement” is introducing new options from new charter schools to help sending children to existing parochial schools. Many parents have simply opted out of the public education process and choose schools based on the values they teach in addition to the test scores they achieve.

And the rest of us, parents and interested onlookers from civil society alike, are left to find our way among the concrete numbers from standardized tests, the results from research projects that either find improvements in our current methods of public education or in very different methods and our own hopes for children and our own judgments about how well we were educated.

The best advice about improving education is at the big-picture level and reminds us that everything from scores on standardized tests to teaching creativity, leadership and values is important.

The research we present in this issue of Fort Wayne Monthly is a snapshot of some of the newest measurements available about the schools in Allen County. They represent the school choices most easily available to Fort Wayne area families.

More data is available from the Indiana Department of Education website, from which these numbers came, and from the schools themselves. It is worth digging into the numbers for either parents choosing a school for their children or for interested members of civil society who know enough to care about how things are going in our schools.

But don’t stop there. Visit schools. Talk to teachers you know. Talk to children. Follow news reports about our schools.

Ask the best, hardest questions you can, and draw your own conclusions. Then act. Volunteer at a school. Tell your school board members and state and federal legislators what you want them to do for and about education. Read as widely as possible about education. And keep demanding the best for our children and our shared future.



The purpose of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+) program is to measure student achievement in the subject areas of English/Language Arts, Science and Mathematics. In particular, ISTEP+ reports student achievement levels according to the Indiana Academic Standards that were adopted in November 2000 by the Indiana State Board of Education.

The ISTEP+ End-of-Course Assessments (ECAs) are criterion-referenced assessments developed specifically for students completing their instruction in Algebra I, Biology I or English 10. A cohort refers to a group of freshman students who enter 10th grade. They take the ECAs the following year. e.g. 2009 cohorts took the test in 2010.

Source: http://www.doe.in.gov/achievement/assessment/end-course-assessments-ecas


About school quality

The State of Indiana bases a lot on test results achieved by our pupils, and there are obviously many other criteria with which a school can be evaluated. For additional information and another view on the quality of public education, the Great Schools website, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among others, is an interesting place to visit.

Here is a taste of  the Great Schools viewpoint:
“Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2009-2010 Indiana used the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+) assessment to test students in grades 3 through 8 and 10 in English/language arts and math, and in grades 5 and 7 in science. The ISTEP+ is a standards-based test that measures how well students are meeting the state’s grade-level expectations. High school students are required to pass the grade 10 ISTEP+ in order to graduate.
Indiana also administers End-of-Course Assessments in algebra I and II, biology I, English II and United States history at the conclusion of each course.

Indiana’s standards

The vision of the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) is to elevate the academic achievement and career preparation of all Indiana students to be the best in the United States and on par with the most competitive countries in the world.

Specifically, the department aims to create and promote a statewide culture of academic excellence, based on the following goals:

•    90% of students will pass both Math and English/Language Arts sections of ISTEP+ and End-of-Course Assessments;
•    25% of all graduates will receive a score of 3, 4 or 5 on at least one Advanced Placement exam, a 4 or higher on an International Baccalaureate exam, or receive the equivalent of 3 semester hours of college credit during their high school years; and
•    90% of students graduate from high school.

Under the leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, Indiana’s students are on course to achieve these goals. Since 2009, the number of students passing both portions of the ISTEP exam has increased to the largest in state history. The number of students graduating high school has jumped more than 8 percentage points to 84.5 percent in 2010, and Indiana can boast the largest increase in students taking Advanced Placement courses in the United States.

Source: doe.in.gov/news/what-we-do


How are the tests scored?

Students are assigned one of three scores for their performance on the ISTEP+: did not pass, pass, or pass+. The state’s goal is for all students to obtain a pass or pass+ score on the test. The End-of-Course Assessments are scored as did not pass or pass. The state’s goal is for all students to pass the test.

Why do the tests matter?

Indiana scores are important to students because schools are required to provide remediation services to those who do not pass the ISTEP+ test in any content area. At the high school level, students must pass the grade 10 ISTEP+, or the Graduation Qualifying Exam (GQE), to earn a high school diploma. High school students are given at least five opportunities to pass the GQE.
ISTEP+ scores are important to schools because they are used to place the school in one of five state accountability categories. Schools in Academic Probation must follow specific steps to improve performance.

Source: www.greatschools.org/students/local-facts-resources/442-testing-in-IN.gs?page=1

Rankings measure colleges

Many parents and students use national college rankings to help narrow their choice of colleges and universities. It’s relatively easy to find Indiana’s largest universities in the national rankings, and you may have to dig to find our regional colleges and universities.

That’s OK, according to Dr. Robert Wilkinson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Institutional Research and Analysis at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Students should consider any rankings data with an eye to what is relevant to their personal needs. Much of the information compiled by ranking services is available online, through the colleges’ own websites. Another reputable source is the Voluntary System of Accountability, www.voluntarysystem.org, which describes itself as “an initiative by public four-year universities to supply clear, accessible and comparable information on the undergraduate student experience to important constituencies through a common web report — the College Portrait,” available at www.collegeportrait.org, where IPFW has a college portrait online.

“You’ve got to use (rankings) cautiously and figure out what are those attributes that are important to me as a student or me as the parent of a student,” he said. “Use (rankings) to help you find that match. I encourage everybody to visit the campuses they are interested in, physically go see them.”

Factors that influence college rankings include student/faculty ratios, graduation rates, number of terminal degrees held by faculty members and class size. Community colleges and regional universities such as IPFW and Ivy Tech often have open or near-open enrollment policies, which impacts graduation rates, Wilkinson said. For example, a person might enroll to take one or two classes to burnish his or her career prospects, rather than to earn a four-year degree.

By examining college websites and visiting campuses, prospective students can get a feel for whether a school will be the right fit, Wilkinson said. Whether a school is highly ranked means nothing if the prospective student doesn’t like the campus, he added.

In addition to the two websites recommended by Wilkinson, you can find Huntington University, Indiana Tech (listed under its formal name of Indiana Institute of Technology), Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester College, Taylor University, Trine University and University of Saint Francis by searching for their names at the U.S. News & World Report rankings site at www.usnews.com and click on the Education tab. You could also explore uscollegerankings.org.

Posted: Thu, 06/14/2012 - 3:04 pm
Last updated: Thu, 06/14/2012 - 3:04 pm