Mary Beth Schneider recently wrote a column about ILEARN, (I’ve misplaced the link) the most recent iteration of Indiana’s obsession with education testing. In the column, she recited an incident in which–following a standardized test– a teacher had informed her then third-grade daughter that she was suited only for minimum wage labor. (That daughter has since graduated college with honors.)
In Indiana today we are using a standardized test that is meant to help track students’ progress along with teacher and school effectiveness. It’s just the latest in a string of standardized test iterations Indiana has tried over the years, starting with the “A plus” program launched by Gov. Robert D. Orr in the 1980s. From there we went to ISTEP; then Gov. Evan Bayh tried to change that to the IPASS testing program, but we ended up back with ISTEP, then ISTEP+ and now ILEARN.
We’ve held the tests in spring, then fall, then spring and fall, and spring again. We’ve changed who takes them and how they take them.
It’s no wonder many teachers want to say IQUIT.
As Mary Beth writes, there are plenty of reasons why educators are unhappy with what has come to be dubbed “high stakes” testing: for one thing, teacher evaluations are pegged to results, based, evidently, on the assumption that poverty, parents, peers and a multitude of other real-world influences–including test anxiety– don’t have at least an equal effect on outcomes; and resentment over the fact that preparation for and administration of the tests steals valuable instructional time.
This is not to say that testing can’t be useful. When tests are administered as a diagnostic tool, they provide teachers with valuable information about a child’s progress, and help them tailor instruction accordingly. But Indiana’s legislature–which includes few educators–prefers to use testing as a punitive (and inaccurate) evaluation tool.
Mary Beth points out that it isn’t only teachers who react negatively to high-stakes testing.
As a parent, the part that concerns me most is that the tests are used to tell children as young as third grade that they are not career or college ready.
In third grade I still planned on being a cowboy.
As she acknowledges, there are perfectly reasonable uses for tests.
Parents and teachers do need to know if their child is keeping pace, and what steps need to be taken to help them become their best selves. And we all need to know if our schools are educating our children or failing them.
But even if the test accurately finds that a child is struggling, that should be the starting point for finding out how to help them learn — and not the time to tell him or her to prepare for a life as a grocery store bagger.
Mary Beth notes that Richard Branson–who dropped out of school at 16– was dyslexic, not stupid. There’s a limit to what school performance can predict.
Recently, schools and parents received the results of the new ILEARN test. And while the exact data hasn’t been officially released, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick have both said they are disappointing. State Rep. Bob Behning, the Indianapolis Republican who is chairman of the House Education Committee and one of the biggest drivers of this new standardized test, issued a statement saying that “the value of Hoosier students and teachers are not defined by test scores, but by the learning being accomplished in the classroom.”
Great. But if their value is not defined by one test, Indiana needs to stop acting like it is. And while giving up testing isn’t an option, how we handle the results is.
The widespread misuse of what should be a diagnostic tool is just one more example of our depressing American tendency to apply bumper sticker solutions to complex issues requiring more nuanced approaches.
Are we concerned about the quality of our public schools? Easy. Let’s just give out vouchers allowing parents to send their children to mostly religious schools that may or may not teach science or civics or accurate history, and are turning out graduates with lower test scores in math and English.
For the 90% of children who still attend our public schools, let’s spend lots of tax dollars on standardized tests that we can then use as a blunt weapon to pigeonhole the kids and penalize their teachers.
Those approaches are so much easier than acting on the basis of in-depth analyses of both strengths and shortcomings, giving our public schools and public school teachers the resources–and the respect– they need, and properly evaluating the results.