Facts prove education reform is working

There was a column recently printed with misinformation and omission about the ISTEP+ testing and our education system that I want to correct.

ISTEP was initiated in 1988, and its purpose is “to measure student achievement in the subject areas of English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.”

Testing should not, and was never intended to be, the primary focus in our classrooms. It is only a guide but is an important part of effective instruction. The Indiana Standards the author referred to as reflecting similarities to Common Core standards is correct. The reason is that Indiana’s already rigorous standards were the starting point for Common Core and were recognized as being some of the best in the nation.

Indiana spends more than half of its state budget and more than 40 percent of its property tax dollars on public education, so it makes sense to measure the achievement of our students. Indiana dedicates a greater percentage of its budget toward education than any other state, and to imply that public education is not given its proper respect is disregarding the actual facts.

Hoosiers are blessed to have some of the finest people among us who dedicate their lives toward educating our children. However, as public education is part of the state budget, it is controlled by elected officials. The General Assembly passes laws and determines the funding for public education, while the state Board of Education adopts the rules and sets the goals. The Department of Education, led by the superintendent of public instruction, implements the laws and rules and collects data so that education decisions can be made. As the author complained about the ISTEP vendor, the facts are that the DOE, led by the superintendent, is responsible for selecting and managing the ISTEP vendor.

The author stated that “their idea of educational reform is not working,” yet the reforms that have been implemented by the Republican-led supermajorities have produced tremendous improvements. All data points show us that student achievement is increasing, along with the graduation rates, and the number of failing schools has been radically reduced while the number of schools improving have increased tremendously.

With the recent reform measures and the tremendous efforts of our teachers and school staff, both Seymour and Brownstown school corporations have gone from C and D ratings in the past to both being A rated in 2014. The author’s school at which she teaches had 89 percent of their students passing both parts of ISTEP last year.

Another beneficial reform now has funding following the child. It made no sense to fund schools for children that were no longer attending while growing school corporations were struggling with their budgets. With funding now following the child, and given the tremendous growth recently experienced by Seymour and other local schools, this proves to be commonsense reform.

Indiana is also leading the way in school choice. While I support our public schools, I firmly believe in giving taxpaying parents a choice in their child’s taxpayer funded education. There is a small, but very vocal group of people that denounce taxpayer-funded school choice and say that it “takes” money away from public education.

The facts are that voucher students comprise only 3 percent of Hoosier students and receive about 1.5 percent of the state’s K-12 funding. Many of our outstanding local schools participate in the voucher program, and I encourage anyone to talk with those parents and schools about the benefits of this program. Ironically, open enrollment in public schools, at more than 74,000 students, is more than double that of voucher students, making public schools the largest school choice system in the state.

Yes, there are education issues that need to be dealt with, and these continue to be addressed by very capable and dedicated people. However, the facts prove that the education reform Hoosiers have demanded is working and our schools are not being wrecked, as some might lead us to think.

Jim Lucas is state representative for District 69. Contact him at 800-382-9841 or H69@in.gov.