Last week, results from Indiana’s latest standardized test, ILEARN, were released to the public. These scores determine a school’s letter grade, and consequently, its funding for the following year, as well as teacher performance grants. The scores came back lower than normal with fewer than half of students who took the exam passing it. Specifically, scores on the English portion of the exam fell by 11.1 percent from the previous year and mathematics scores fell by 16.7 percent.
The governor, superintendent of public instruction and all four leaders of the General Assembly caucuses, including Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, have called for a hold harmless on this year’s exam grades as to not negatively impact school funding and teacher performances.
This is an obvious decision by state leaders as it would be wholly unfair to punish schools for an exam that has glaring issues, but there is a lot more to this issue than what first meets the eye.
HIGH STAKES TESTING
The problems we’ve seen as a result of this year’s test allude to a much larger problem in our state. When the ISTEP was first administered, the same hold harmless language had to be approved by the state legislature to protect schools. This is merely a symptom of high stakes testing. Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, and the Senate Democratic Caucus agree that school funding and teacher performance grants should be decoupled from test results, and the letter grade system should be demolished altogether. Instead, Indiana should follow guidelines set by the federal education program, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Dr. McCormick has also requested that the State Board of Education readjust the accountability standards for Indiana schools. Currently, no one from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) is on the state’s School Accountability Panel – a 15-member committee created by the General Assembly – including the superintendent herself. This is an issue because the School Accountability Panel creates a system with no input from IDOE, and then the department is forced to just follow the guidelines set forth by the committee.
Indiana is already underfunding public education as well as our teachers, an issue the caucus has spoken to in-depth in the past. Now, the state has spent and wasted $45 million on a test that serves no merit whatsoever. We don’t disagree that a test should exist, we just believe that legislators shouldn’t change the rules in the middle of the game for educators and their students at the cost of taxpayers. The Republican supermajority has given the state little to no opportunity to adjust to the latest version of a statewide exam which was made more rigorous; remember too that scores had to be held harmless just a few years ago in 2016 for the then newly-implemented ISTEP+ test. That exam, which also held no merit, cost the state $38 million.