There is still a sizable achievement gap for students considered most at-risk for dropping out of school: Statewide, only 47 percent of students who don't speak English as their native tongue - and are classified as English language learners - passed both the math and English/language arts portion of the test. Only 59 percent of students who come from low-income families - who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices - passed both the key portions of the test.
Still, both those passing rates are better than years past. In the 2008-09 school year, only 34 percent of students who were English language learners passed both the key portions of ISTEP+; and only 48 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch passed both the math and English/language arts portions of the test that year.
The passing rates for Hispanic students, black students and those classified as "special education" students have also been steadily climbing but still fall behind the pass rates for students who are white, who don't have special needs and whose families aren't living in poverty.
Bennett spoke briefly about a cheating scandal involving standardized tests at an Indianapolis high school. The state Department of Education is investigating allegations that a group of biology teachers at North Central High School used answers to test questions from a state biology exam to create test-preparation materials to boost their students' scores.
Bennett said it was the “most egregious” case of cheating he'd ever seen. “I intend to hold people accountable for harming children,” Bennett said.
High school students no longer take the ISTEP tests, but they do take "end of course assessments" in English, algebra and biology after completing instruction in those subjects.
If they don't pass English and math ECAs, they must a obtain a waiver from their schools to graduate. To earn a waiver, seniors who haven't passed the ECA in math or English must show they had 95 percent attendance and had a C average in that subject. If they took the test every time it was offered, completed extra help sessions offered at school and earned a recommendation from a teacher and the principal, they may still graduate.