Letter: Accountability must be reliable and valid

As the superintendents of Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents District VIII Schools, we want to express concerns about the results of the past two years of ISTEP testing and how these questionable test results can be used to label our schools. As our parents and community members know, across the state our local public schools provide the curricular framework for over one million students to be successful in today’s competitive workforce.

To be clear, drastic changes were made to the ISTEP in each of the last two years, and overall across the state the test scores show a significant drop from the 2013-2014 scores in all tested subjects and at all tested grade levels.

We feel that these new tests were developed hastily and do not accurately measure the students’ ability and their mastery of the Indiana Standards.

Additionally, we know that our teachers were not given ample time to adjust curriculum and instruction to prepare students for these more rigorous assessments. We believe that changes in the test structure along with arbitrarily set cut scores are producing the significant drops in passing rates.

As school leaders, we are all for accountability, however, we strongly believe that the methods used to provide this accountability must be reliable and valid, and must go beyond one test score. We further believe that educators must be given a strong voice in developing a new accountability system that will give a more accurate picture of the quality of work being done by the students, teachers and staff members in our public schools.

In the meantime, as the work to develop a new accountability system is still in progress, we implore our elected officials to not use the results of this flawed ISTEP assessment to place inaccurate labels (letter grades) on our public schools. The A-F grading system needs to be paused and schools need to be provided with a hold harmless provision from the results of the 2015-16 ISTEP, similar to what was done last year.

Refusing to provide a hold harmless provision fails to take into account the fact that for the second year in a row, ISTEP results have not been released in a timely manner, which significantly reduces the opportunity to provide remediation to improve student performance.

Additionally, using this flawed test to place inaccurate labels on our schools will negatively impact the perception of Indiana communities and the education we provide for our students. Our students and parents deserve better. This will also continue the false negative rhetoric surrounding public education which is contributing to the severe shortage of teacher candidates we are experiencing in our state.

In closing, we firmly believe that these test scores do not accurately reflect our students’ yearly achievement and the great job our teachers do each day in the classroom. These test scores should not be used to give a letter grade to our schools or school districts, and our elected officials need to re-evaluate what impact this flawed assessment system is having on public education.

A hold harmless provision from the 2015-16 ISTEP results for our schools and students is the right thing to do, and we call upon our state leaders to take a stance in support of public education in Indiana.

Note: This letter was directed to Indiana legislators and signed by the following school superintendents: Tom Hunter, Greensburg Schools; Terry Sargent, Jennings County Schools;  Rob Moorhead, South Ripley Schools; Marc Slaton, Scott County No. 2 Schools; Johnny Budd, Decatur County Schools; Greg Walker, Brownstown Schools; Mark Eastridge, South Harrison Schools; Steve Morris, Lanesville Schools; Trevor Jones, Southwest Jefferson County Schools; Tim Taylor, JCD Schools; Andrew Melin, Greater Clark Schools; Andrew Jackson, Sunman Dearborn Schools; Bruce Hibbard, New Albany/Floyd County Schools; Brandon Roeder, Rising Sun Schools; Chad Schenck, West Clark Schools; Debbie Howell, Franklin County Schools; Ginger Bolinger, Madison Schools; John Mehrle, South Dearborn Schools; John Thomas, North Harrison Schools; Kim Knott, Clarksville Schools; Karl Galey, Lawrenceburg Schools; Keith Nance, West Washington Schools; Lynn Reed, Salem Schools; Paul Ketcham, Milan Schools; Mike Jones, Switzerland County Schools; Robert Anderson, Scott County No. 1 Schools; Roger Bane, Medora Schools; Dennis Stockdale, East Washington Schools; Laura Hammack, Brown County Schools; Shawn Price, Flat Rock-Hawcreek Schools; Rob Hooker, Seymour Schools