Editor's note: Superintendent Chris Himsel sent the following letter to families in the Northwest Allen County Schools district.
Yesterday, ISTEP scores were released to the public across the state. Compared to other districts, Northwest Allen County Schools performed well. However, the information is not relevant to us. Why? Because (1) the events that yielded these scores took place over four months ago and (2) the results provide zero information about why students passed or why students did not pass. Therefore, the recently released data do not offer useful information designed to help us meet the individual learning needs of our students. Why is it important to receive information designed to meet the individual learning needs of students? Because the test results themselves are not an indicator of school or teacher quality; school and teacher quality is a result of how learning data, including test results, are used to improve learning among individual students.
Because ISTEP does not help us meet the individual learning needs of students, we continue to encourage policymakers, including the State Board of Education, to use the recently passed state legislation enabling them to develop a new testing system that complies with the Federal ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and fixes the current broken system by
• recognizing and accommodating the vast diversity of students served within our educational system (i.e., special needs students, English Language Learners (ELL), Children in Needs of Services (CHINS), mobility, etc.);
• identifying student strengths and weaknesses and reporting them in immediate, actionable formats;
• effectively reporting student strengths and weaknesses in a way that is easily understood by parents, teachers, students, school leaders, etc.;
• effectively reporting student strengths and weaknesses in a way that informs school/district continuous improvement action plans;
• significantly reducing the amount of time students are engaged in completing state-mandated tests so that the amount of instructional time is maximized;
• measuring student academic growth; and
• identifying and monitoring achievement gaps as required by ESSA.
Thankfully, the results of the Northwest Evaluation Association test (NWEA) and our locally developed assessments support the expertise of our teaching staff in helping us determine where your child is on the learning continuum so we can identify her/his learning needs. Frankly, the amount of money spent by the state government on state and federally mandated testing systems would be better spent supporting programs designed to work directly with students who need extra help in order to achieve at the levels our community expects. Despite the mandates from the state and federal governments, we continue to invest in developing the expertise of our teachers and administrators. We will also continue relying on this expertise to analyze the results of NWEA and our locally developed assessments to determine the individual learning needs of the students we are blessed to serve.
Our focus remains on helping each of our students become contributing members of our community. As we continue conversations with employers and representatives of post-secondary institutions, we realize that in order for our students to become contributing members of our community our mission must not be on memorizing standardized information for mandated tests. Instead, our mission must remain focused on developing the talent and nurturing the creativity of each student. We will continue accomplishing our mission by providing healthy and safe learning environments that engage students in meaningful learning activities, support students when learning becomes difficult, and challenge students to achieve more than they ever thought was possible.
We are blessed to serve the children in our community. We thank you for the opportunity.
Chris Himsel is superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools.