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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 2:58 pm

Accountability gap

Step away from the Statehouse firestorm to see the issue from outside its highly charged forum. An excellent vantage point is the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an international association of professional educators promoting expert and innovative approaches in education.

The nonprofit ASCD on Monday – before the ISTEP+ turmoil erupted – released a thoughtful resolution calling for education policymakers across the nation to adopt a two-year moratorium on high-stakes tests.

"States can and should still administer standardized assessments and communicate the results and what they mean to districts, schools, and families, but without the threat of punitive sanctions that have distorted their importance," according to the organization. "ASCD is strongly advocating for a new approach in which testing is just one tool among many in determining whether our students are prepared for a successful future after high school graduation."

Chris Himsel, superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools, is a member of the ASCD legislative committee that approved the agenda calling for federal policies that establish a "multimetric" accountability system and reduce the reliance on standardized testing.

Himsel said in an email that he supports ASCD’s call for a timeout, "especially since all of the tests are new and little preparation time has gone into informing stakeholders what performance measures will actually be included on these tests."  

Viewed from a national perspective, the squabbles in Indianapolis show Gov. Mike Pence and state schools chief Glenda Ritz blaming each other for circumstances neither created. Their political bickering and finger-pointing obscure an important point: The obsession with standardized testing has reached its breaking point. ASCD’s wise call for a moratorium is one of numerous signs across the country. Maine education officials are complaining about errors in online tests their students are scheduled to take this spring. Utah parents are protesting provisions for opting their children out of tests. Oklahoma’s state schools chief cut a pilot test on writing to free up more time for classroom instruction.

The uprising shows Indiana lawmakers weren’t the only officials to buy into the test industry’s self-serving claim that costly assessments are the only way to demonstrate accountability. The more measures added – school letter grades, teacher evaluations, new curriculum requirements – the greater the profits. Politico reported this week that Pearson, the British publishing powerhouse, has reaped $4 billion in sales from its North American education division, much of it tied to testing. And it is just one company among many politically connected megacorps seeking profits at taxpayer expense.

No one is suggesting that students and teachers shouldn’t be held accountable, but let’s demand the same accountability of the assessment industry and related education enterprises. They deserve failing grades for delivering flawed tests and for their brazen push to to sell more products and privatize more school operations. A moratorium on the high-stakes results of testing would be a fitting punishment.