The Journal Gazette
 
 
Tuesday, March 15, 2016 11:32 pm

Failing its students

A back-to-school exam for taxpayers, parents and lawmakers:

Indiana’s statewide standardized test for students:

A. Was administered without problems for the third consecutive year.

B. Produced scores in a timely fashion.

C. Provides an accurate and cost-efficient measure of student achievement, school quality and teacher effectiveness.

D. None of the above

If you chose anything but the final answer, give yourself a failing grade – the same grade due Indiana’s broken accountability system and the policymakers who continue to support it at untold expense.

The State Board of Education learned last week that spring ISTEP+ scores will again be delayed, along with the A-F school accountability grades that are based, in part, on those scores.

Ellen Haley, president of CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing vendor, said the delay was caused by new math problems requiring students to show their work. The test writers didn’t anticipate some of the methods that students used to arrive at the correct answer, so the company’s scoring system incorrectly marked the answers as wrong.

Haley blamed the decision to adopt new statewide academic standards, after Indiana became the first state to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards.

"This is the nature of switching so dramatically," Haley told the board. "There’s nothing left over from the previous test. We can’t use the scale. We can’t use the weighted formula. You started over again."

But don’t feel sorry for Haley and her company.

"What’s happening is girls and boys are just being damaged, and teachers are being damaged, by the ineffective practices of your company," said board member Steve Yager, retired superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, "I’m looking forward to you delivering on what you said you can deliver, because we educators are extremely disappointed."

Indiana has already ditched CTB/McGraw-Hill in favor of British-owned Pearson, but don’t expect anything to improve. Pearson is the biggest of the testing-vendor giants – with 60 percent of the U.S. testing market – and its two-year Indiana contract is estimated at $38 million.

The company just reached a settlement with Minnesota worth more than $5 million after the state was forced to cancel two days of testing because Pearson faced a cyberattack. Similar to Indiana’s 2014 experience with CTB/McGraw-Hill, Minnesota students were booted offline during the exam and faced long lag times.

This year’s ISTEP+ delays are expected to push the release of scores into early next year. That will push back the release of school letter grades and, in turn, scores used in teacher evaluations required for salary and bonus determinations. In other words, the accountability system Indiana lawmakers have constructed has failed them once again.

The real question for taxpayers, parents and voters is why does this continue? Who benefits from this broken system? Certainly not students. We challenge any legislator to show how the cumbersome and costly testing monstrosity fosters learning.

The General Assembly, in fact, seems to have lost sight of the purpose of schooling to instead focus on testing. How much stronger would Indiana’s schools be – and how much better prepared for college, careers and civic responsibility would its young adults be – if a fraction of the attention and money devoted to testing was invested in proven methods like early childhood education?

In other states, parents are challenging the corporate education lobby’s vise grip on legislators by holding their students out of school on exam days. That sort of protest doesn’t suit Hoosiers, but they should at least demand accountability from the General Assembly. What are we gaining from tax dollars spent on flawed tests and, more important, what are we losing?


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