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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 23, 2016 10:00 pm

Take the next step

Indiana lawmakers’ first order of business this session was to make sure schools and teachers aren’t harmed by last year’s flawed ISTEP+ test. Now they are preparing to pass a bill that would eliminate ISTEP+ in 2018, as well as drop the proposed $10 million re-score of the 2015 test. 

The next step? They can continue in a welcome new direction by ending Indiana’s reliance on standardized testing as the primary measure of school quality.

House Bill 1395 would establish a study committee to look at alternatives to Indiana’s current testing program and make recommendations to replace it. After repeated problems with test vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill, the state signed a $32.6 million, two-year contract with Pearson Education Inc., the London-based education products giant controlling 60 percent of the U.S. school-testing market. Its new chairman is Sidney Taurel, former CEO of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.

Pearson’s record is as worrisome as CTB/McGraw-Hill’s. A Politico investigation last year found the company earning tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and shares of student tuition from contracts obtained without competitive bids in states across the U.S. In New York, parents and teachers complained about Pearson-created test questions last year, including a Common Core-aligned test that asked fourth-graders to write about the architectural and engineering design of roller coasters.

Indiana finally is placing more scrutiny on ISTEP+ and the resulting scores. An Indianapolis Star report on scoring errors prompted Indianapolis Republican Robert Behning, the House’s lead lawmaker on school policy, to call for the re-score, which he still supports as part of the accountability argument he used to promote vouchers and charter schools and to weaken teacher unions. Some members of the appointed State Board of Education continue to support the same approach.

Fortunately, saner voices are rising.

"I just think we can chase our tails on that forever," Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said of the proposed re-score. "I think we need to put ISTEP in our rearview mirror as soon as we can."

The whole overreliance on standardized testing – not just ISTEP+ – should be in the rearview mirror. The good news for elected officials who have long bought into the hype is that the political landscape has changed tremendously. Backlash against Common Core has lawmakers who have long demanded high-stakes tests as the primary measure of school accountability rethinking the tests’ value. Continuing problems in both administering and grading the tests have many parents and taxpayers questioning their validity, too.

The growing role of standardized tests never made fiscal sense for anyone but the corporate giants who sell them. Educators need assessments that allow them to guide instruction, which is what Indiana lawmakers should begin to embrace as they distance themselves from the broken ISTEP+ program.