Time for a better way to measure education achievement

For a number of years, the concerns and distress caused by the 2013, 2014, and most recently the 2015 ISTEP testing have been well documented by individual Indiana public school superintendents to their local media throughout the state.

Indiana superintendents hold the welfare of their students, staff and individual communities above all else. They have a great deal of concern over the current status of the ISTEP testing program, and as such they will continue to outline to their local communities the significant issues with the current ISTEP testing program being used in Indiana schools. Several of these concerns include:

  • Students not being able to complete the test on-line due to connectivity issues with the vendor,
  • Extraordinary delay between the time the test was given and when the results were delivered,
  • The apparent disconnect between the on-line versions of the test and the paper/pencil versions,
  • Documented errors in the scoring of the student tests that have been masked by the testing vendor,
  • The incomprehensible length of the entire testing program.

These are but a few of the concerns that have led school personnel and the public to have no faith in the testing results.

Compounding this travesty, individual schools, public school districts, teachers and principals are evaluated based on these questionable results. Indiana students, their parents, taxpayers and public school employees deserve better.

Individual schools and school districts are publicly “graded” based on the results of ISTEP testing. For example, in 2014, 44.2 percent of the schools in 25 districts received grades of “A.” A preliminary analysis of testing results in 2015, indicate the percentage of schools receiving an “A” would drop to 14.5 percent.

Moreover, 6.2 percent of the schools in the metro Indianapolis area received a “D” or “F” in 2014, and that would increase to 37.3 percent in 2015. What business would be interested in moving their operations to Indiana when so many more schools are considered ‘failing?” Indiana deserves a better public measurement of its ability to education millions of students each year.

Indiana school superintendents do not believe one test should be used to measure student learning or the quality of teaching in Indiana public schools. Nor should one test be used to gauge a community based on a flawed metric used to “grade” it.

Superintendents across the state have offered suggestions of a broader accountability model that measures progress over time. Indiana’s current model of constantly changing performance targets leaves little hope for longitudinal reflection and no long-term guidance for continuing academic improvement.

Ironically, the ISTEP testing fiasco with its unreliable results were reported at the same time that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “nation’s report card” were released. National Assessment of Educational Progress results, which have been reported since 1992, reveal that for 2015, Indiana’s public school students are achieving ever higher levels of academic success and proficiency. This fact makes the results of this year’s ISTEP all the more troubling.

Last week the United States Congress passed new legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), formerly known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The No Child Left Behind Act allowed the federal government to intervene and provide oversight for education in all states.

The reauthorization legislation, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act, returns education oversight to the states and precludes many of the issues that have caused so much heartache and confusion for public education and educators for the last 15 years. We have a chance to get it right for Indiana children by allowing local parents, schools and educators to continue educating children to their fullest capabilities.

The Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents stands ready to assist the Indiana General Assembly, the State Board of Education, and the Indiana Department of Education in making changes that hold schools accountable while encouraging growth in achievement and innovation in instructional strategies.

We call on the decision-making bodies in state government to acknowledge the serious shortcomings in the present system and to make immediate changes to reduce the financial burden of this system on the state’s taxpayers and the time burden on the state’s teachers and students. To do anything less is a disservice to the people of Indiana.

It’s time for a better way for Indiana’s children and the public schools who educate them.

Indiana deserves this chance.

J. T. Coopman is executive director of Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.