John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

Problems also can be opportunities.

Such may be the case with the disaster that is the first year of Indiana’s ILEARN standardized testing system.

The scope of that disaster became clear Wednesday.

More than 60 percent of the Hoosier students who took the test failed it. That represents a 13 percent decline over last year’s pass/fail rate with the ISTEP test.

There are only a couple of ways to account for a decline that sharp and sudden.

One is that Indiana students became a whole lot dumber in a year’s time.

The second is more plausible. There was a problem — a big problem — with the test.

If that’s the case — if just the nature of the test can affect the results by such a wide margin — then maybe making standardized testing the heart of Indiana’s approach to education isn’t such a good idea.

That’s where the opportunity lies within this ocean-sized problem.

A setback this significant would prompt rational minds to pause and reconsider their course. The question is whether there still are any rational minds driving education policy in this state.

That is a big question, because this latest train wreck has been a long time coming. There have been many chances to slow the train or to put it on a different track. Every chance to do so — every chance to avoid having the train jump the tracks — was waved off.

When the education reform movement in Indiana began to gather momentum in Indiana more than a generation ago, its members advanced several arguments.

They said that public education was too hidebound, too resistant to innovation and creativity. They argued that schools and educators were insulated from accountability, so they were not motivated to adapt to new circumstances or seek out ways to improve performances. And they contended that teachers, through their unions, had adopted a bunker mentality, one that resisted or even rejected even the most constructive criticism and refused to acknowledge mistakes or discard failed approaches.

There was truth to the arguments.

But, as is so often the case, the reformers became the mirror image of that which they initially criticized.

In the years since they have been driving education policy, the reformers have hunkered down themselves. Any criticism of their pet plans, proposals or programs is met with hostile defiance and written off to base motives. They have worked with zeal to remove the charter schools and school voucher programs they champion from the accountability standards they are so eager to impose on traditional public schools and the educators who work in them.

Similarly, they have insulated themselves from any accountability for the mistakes and failures for which they are responsible.

Perhaps worst, they have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to what might be the genuine breakthroughs in educational research that have occurred in recent years.

Put simply, we now know much, much more about the ways people learn than we did even a generation ago. Taking advantage of this new understanding and improving education is going to be less a product of “empowering parents” or “introducing choice into the process” — two education reform buzz phrases — than it is about determining the way each individual child learns best and placing the student in an educational environment that best fits that learning style.

There is a place for testing in that model, but the testing should be diagnostic, not punitive. It should be designed to help us determine how best to help each child achieve his or her potential.

Most important, this new model should remind everyone — students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials — that we’re all on the same side and have the same goal. We all want our young people to learn as much as they can.

The debacle that is the ILEARN experience gives us this chance to start again.

We should seize that chance.

We just told nearly two-thirds of our children that they are failures.

Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time, money and energy on figuring out ways each child could succeed?