By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s latest educational testing debacle demonstrates one thing.
We need still more testing.
Not of the students in our schools, their teachers or the schools themselves.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
No, we need to start testing the politicians who keep monkeying with the state’s education policies and practices – often at the behest of lobbyists eager to get a piece of the state’s multi-billion-dollar education budget.
We need to find out if these political leaders have learned even one thing from all the mistakes they’ve made along the way.
The bet here is that they haven’t.
For more than 35 years, a series of governors, state superintendents of public instruction and legislators have played games with Indiana’s schools and students. They have pontificated about needing to hold educators “accountable” for student learning.
But they never talk about holding – heaven forbid – themselves accountable for educational missteps and, yes, train wrecks they’ve overseen over the decades.
The tool they have insisted upon using is a standardized test. They’ve worked to tie teacher pay and school funding to student test scores.
That test has gone through a series of names through the years, all of them acronyms cooked up by marketing hucksters, who seemed to have a greater voice in the process than experienced educators.
The latest version is called ILEARN.
The results haven’t been officially released yet, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and other self-proclaimed education reformers already have moved to the damage-control stage of the public discussion. The governor has proposed that teachers and schools be held harmless for one year.
That’s because the scores apparently are a disaster. Even students who are top performers crashed and burned.
This was a disaster one could see coming. Both teachers and students complained from the outset that the test was confusing, and the instructions were often contradictory when they weren’t incoherent.
Worse, the information gathered from the testing experience is next to worthless.
A large part of the value of a standardized test lies in the “standard” part of the description. To have value, it’s supposed to stay the same from place to place and year to year.
It’s hard to know who the fastest runner in a race is if one contestant runs a mile, the other 100 yards and still another a marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Similarly, it’s difficult for any individual runner to track progress if she or he runs a different distance every day.
But that’s basically what the deep thinkers driving education policy in our state have done over the past three-plus decades. In one 15-year period, they changed the state’s test 16 times.
No wonder we have little idea how our schools and students really are performing.
A cynic might suggest that was the point. Changing these tests so often had less to do with assessing student and school performance than it did with preventing the public from realizing that the education reform crowd spent years and massive sums of money to achieve meager, even non-existent results.
But that’s a larger question.
At present, we have another easily avoidable education mess on our hands. We have a test that is so bad and so worthless that even the people who pushed for it are running away from it.
We have students across the state who are frustrated. We have a workforce in our schools teaching those students – who happen to be our children – that is dispirited and angry.
That’s wonderful return on investment, isn’t it?
But we also have an entrenched and empowered group of ideologues and well-paid education reform hustlers eager to sell us on ways to “improve” the shipwreck of a testing and educational system they already sold our elected officials.
Again and again and again.
Keeping their snouts buried firmly in the state budget trough is a much higher priority than helping our children, don’t you think?
Given that the self-proclaimed education reform crowd loves tests so much, maybe they could come up with another one for elected officials.
They could call it the State Underperformance and Constant Knowledge Expense Results test.
SUCKER, for short.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.