The Journal Gazette
Friday, September 06, 2019 1:00 am


Harmless? Hardly

Hurt spread wide by new standardized test

Hold harmless?

Gov. Eric Holcomb, Republican legislative leaders and the appointed State Board of Education insist that's what should be done with results from ILEARN, the standardized test administered to Indiana students last spring. Some are even thanking them for doing so. But the harm is done, and there are many victims.

Students and parents: Test results released Wednesday showed only school passing rates. Now the schools – at their expense – will mail home results for each student tested in grades 3 to 8. Just 37% of students passed both the English and math portions, compared with almost 51% who passed both portions of the ISTEP+ test last year.

Imagine the frustration of the high-achieving fourth-grader who is suddenly labeled “not proficient' on the computer adaptive test, which posed harder or easier questions as students marked correct or incorrect responses.

Schools: The State Board of Education adopted a resolution Wednesday to postpone the release of A-F school grades until the General Assembly uncouples test scores from the punitive school accountability system. With 90% of schools statewide seeing fewer than 60% of students passing math and English portions of ILEARN, most of Indiana's elementary and middle schools were in line to be labeled with a D or F grade. The low passing rates themselves are a blow to schools that worked tirelessly last year to prepare for another flawed test.

Teachers: The hold-harmless provision is likely to sever test results from teacher evaluations and pay. It's a good thing to throw out results that don't make sense, according to Sandra Vohs, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, which represents Fort Wayne Community Schools teachers. But the state's overemphasis on standardized testing already has caused harm to teachers, she said Wednesday.

“Schools want to be held accountable, but this doesn't work,” Vohs said. “They take the test in the spring and the results don't come out until the fall, so there's no connection to instruction. And the secrecy surrounding it – it's almost like the black helicopters coming in and dropping it. It causes stress – kids get upset and teachers get upset when their kids are upset.”

Indiana: It's no coincidence that the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership hosted the news conference Wednesday for the four Allen County school superintendents to address ILEARN results. John Sampson, CEO and president, said the partnership is no testing expert but recognizes that the 39 school districts in its 11-county region have “almost universally” complained the testing program distracts them from instruction.

“Our focus is on the preparation of students to go to work, whether it's a four-year institution or some other certification,” he said. “As a region, we need to work together to provide stability and to support our school districts. It's important from a business community standpoint to support our schools.”

As the state pushes to attract work talent, strong schools represent a quality-of-place attribute. Employees want to be in a school system that's healthy and vibrant. When state policies affect the perception of our schools, the business community needs to get to the bottom of what is happening, according to Sampson.

Taxpayers: You're picking up the bill for the state's broken assessment system. Indiana paid $39.7 million to the American Institutes for Research for the new ILEARN test. The British-owned Pearson Education was paid $38 million for the last version of the ISTEP+ assessment. When legislators boast of the large proportion of tax dollars spent on K-12 education, the figure includes the money paid to test vendors.

Hold harmless? Too late. Let's hold someone responsible.

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