Memories of an influential teacher commonly recall an encouraging talk, a creative class project or a dose of discipline that righted a wayward kid’s path.

High school classes often invite former teachers to their reunions. It is doubtful those teachers will hear an alum say, “All those standardized test drills in your class changed my life.”

Reformers in the Indiana Legislature seem enamored with standardized tests for the state’s public schools. They particularly enjoy linking those exams to teacher evaluations and pay, and applying letter grades to school districts based on those tests. Passionate complaints by folks who actually work day after day inside those schools — principals, teachers, counselors, administrators — seem to only reinforce the test-happy legislators’ commitment to their mandates.

Educators’ objections are valid.

Teachers wind up “teaching to the test” because so much is at stake in the outcomes. It leaves little room for those projects that can linger in a student’s memory long past graduation. That high-stakes testing system pushes young prospects away from the teaching profession, a big problem statewide and in the Vigo County School Corp. As for kids, many wrongly wind up believing their abilities are summed up in their score on that almighty test.

It keeps on happening anyway. Thus, yet another controversy surrounding another standardized test in Indiana has unfolded as the new school year begins.

The state replaced its ISTEP test — which once lasted longer than the average law school bar exam — with ILEARN. Indiana is paying American Institutes for Research $45 million over three years to implement ILEARN. Students in grades 3-8 took the fully online ILEARN for the first time last spring. The results came back this month. Scores are markedly lower, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Results will be publicly released Sept. 4.

Rigors of the new test’s college and career readiness elements and other new twists made a drop in scores expected by the DOE. Other problems with the first-time ILEARN have been reported, including students not having enough exposure to the new format, and the state-set cutoff point for passing the test being too high.

Now, Gov. Eric Holcomb and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick are imploring the Legislature to “hold harmless” schools and teachers for any drops in the standardized test scores this year. On Monday, McCormick said she continues to advocate for “a new, modernized, state accountability system that is fair, accurate and transparent.” The Indiana State Teachers Association agreed with the pleas by Holcomb and 
McCormick for the Legislature to hold schools and teachers harmless, while also criticizing the entire standardized testing-based system.

“ILEARN is yet another example of Indiana’s continued use of standardized tests and constant policy turmoil that harms students and discourages teachers to remain in the profession,” the ISTA said in a statement Monday.

Indiana’s conversion to a test-centered educational system during the past 15 years, steered by ideologues in the Legislature, is wrongheaded.

A new path is needed.
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