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2023 ILEARN scores show Indiana students improving in math, but stagnating in reading

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Indiana’s statewide testing scores stagnated this year as students faced an uneven academic recovery, with gains in math proficiency and declines in English. 

Around 30.6% of students in grades 3-8 statewide scored proficient or better in both the English and math sections of the ILEARN state test — only a fraction of a percentage point above the 30.2% last year

Even though overall math scores rose 1.5 percentage points over last year, English scores dropped half a percentage point despite a statewide effort to boost literacy. In 2023, 40.7% of students were proficient in English, and 40.9% were proficient in math.

Reading proficiency rates have dropped back to 2021 levels after gains in 2022, with several student groups showing a percentage-point decline this year.

Overall scores still remain far below pre-pandemic levels: In 2019, around 37% of students scored proficient in both English and math. Around 48% of students scored proficient in at least one of the sections. 

“When we set our standards in 2019, compared to the data we’re seeing now, we’re still about 6% below where we were in 2019,” said Charity Flores, chief academic officer at the Indiana Department of Education.

The department acknowledged in a presentation to the State Board of Education that more targeted support is needed in English, especially for English learner students and middle schoolers. Seventh grade English scores dropped nearly 3 percentage points. 

The state launched several initiatives in the last year to improve reading skills, including increasing funding for English learners. 

New laws also require schools and teacher preparation programs to align their literacy instruction with research-backed methods known collectively as the science of reading. The state also recently reduced the number of standards required of  students in order to allow teachers to focus on the most essential skills. 

Students will take a brand-new statewide test by 2025-26, as the department undertakes a redesign of the assessment.

The goal of the redesign is to make the results clearer to families and teachers with more frequent data, Flores said, as well as to shorten the final assessment. Students will take informal, check-in assessment throughout the year.

2023 ILEARN results by school and student group

Some student groups showed signs of improvement on the 2023 ILEARN. For the second year in a row, Black students posted at least a percentage point increase in both math and English.

Sixth graders posted a 2.8 percentage-point increase in math proficiency and a 1.8 percentage-point increase in English. 

Additionally, around 53% of third graders scored proficient or better in math, making them once again the only grade where more than half of students were proficient in either subject. Those students have only known school during the pandemic.

At Indianapolis Public Schools, proficiency rates for English stayed flat from last year, while math scores climbed 1.6 percentage points. Overall, 14.8% of students were proficient in both math and English. 

Meanwhile, Brownsburg schools in neighboring Hendricks County had the highest percentage of students who tested proficient, 63.4%.

Academic recovery is stabilizing for most students

At a Wednesday State Board of Education meeting, Department of Education officials also presented the results of a multiyear study on the impact of the pandemic on students’ academics. 

This year’s analysis showed that nearly all students are stabilizing in both English and math, with no further declines. But students are not accelerating their learning at the rates needed to return to their pre-pandemic performance, according to the presentation. 

Notably, English performance among English learner students is still declining.

Flores said the data indicates that the education system is returning to a pre-pandemic normal, but specific student groups — including English learners, middle schoolers, and students who were below proficiency before the pandemic — have yet to recover.

“Specific conversations and concerted efforts are needed to best support their learning,” she said.

SAT scores also show a decline

In addition to scores for students in grades 3-8, the Department of Education on Wednesday released SAT proficiency rates for Indiana juniors, who take the test as a graduation requirement.

The percentage of students who tested as college ready declined in both math, and reading and writing from last year. 

Around 31% of juniors met the benchmark in the spring compared with 33% in 2022, the first year the test was required.

In reading and writing, around 50% of students met the benchmark this year, compared with 52% in 2023. 

The department is also considering new graduation requirements to align with Indiana’s push for more work-based learning, though it’s unclear whether the SAT requirement would be affected.

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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