To the Point for 2/9/2006


THE RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT that the state of Indiana is considering moving the ISTEP student testing from the fall to the spring has many people talking. For most educators, it only makes sense to give the test as the school year ends; rather than giving the test in the fall, in essence testing a student over what they have retained over the summer from the previous school year.

Each year when the results of the ISTEP educational tests are released, every school system around the state begins looking at ways that they can do things better so that test scores at their schools show improvement.

Switzerland County is one of the those school systems.

On the surface, it only makes sense that school systems would take time to look at the scores and compare their students and find ways to do things in a better way. School systems should spend time in self-evaluation, because at stake is the future of our children and their education.

That said, this is also a time that everyone needs to step back, take a breath, relax, and realize that this is only one test.

It’s a test that the Indiana Department of Education mandates for students at different grade levels — but it is still just one test. It is currently given at a lousy time of the year, and it is given under stress levels that no adult would like to work under.

How would you like to take a test that — if you didn’t pass it — meant that you would lose your job? That’s basically what the state is telling our 10th graders: “Pass this test or you won’t graduate.”

Isn’t it strange that the state says that a sophomore has acquired enough knowledge at the beginning of his or her 10th grade year that they know enough to graduate three years later?

This is raising the academic standards in our state?

Granted, 10th graders who don’t pass one or both parts of the test have other opportunities to pass the test over the next three years — but it also gives you cause to wonder just what the state is trying to do when it builds in multiple retests.

Is the state saying that it knows that the test is unfair for a sophomore to take? Is it saying that it doesn’t expect our children to have the knowledge necessary to pass the test the first time?

If the state truly believes what it says it does — that those students should by the beginning of their 10th grade year have enough acquired knowledge to graduate as a senior — then why does it go to great lengths to schedule numerous retakes?

This year’s ISTEP scores in Switzerland County had both good and bad points. The third graders at Jefferson-Craig scored so highly that they are ranked number one in the entire state. Progress continues to be shown in all buildings at all grade levels.

But the state still wants more.

Eventually every student — each and every one — will have to pass the test, or the school system could face consequences. There are now both state and federal standards that our students need to meet and then exceed — and those standards don’t match up.

Teachers and administrators in all of the buildings are now taking time to dissect each and every aspect of the test in order to see if there’s some little variable that could be addressed in order to bring test scores up.

The state needs to use some common sense and realize that every moment these teachers are out of the classroom collaborating; or every after school hour they spend evaluating is less time that they can spend on what really matters — those children sitting in that classroom who just want to learn something today.

But what is happening is that the state is turning our educators into robots, simply spitting out the proper state standard when certain information is provided.

Is it so bad that a class gets a particular “spark” from a certain subject area; and a teacher fuels that spark by spending some extra time talking about it? When that happens and some other element of the overall standards is minimized, are we all going to detention in Dr. Suellen Reed’s study hall?

Loosen up, give teachers the freedom to teach children without holding a state and federal sledgehammer over them.

When we all step back and look at the situation, we are graduating quality young people from our high school every year. Our children are going on to college or to the service or to some field of work and are becoming productive members of our society.

Many leave here for jobs; while others become important parts of this county as adults.

What we cannot allow to happen is for our educational system to break down to the point where all our teachers are doing is teaching to some state-mandated test.

When that happens true education breaks down in favor of a society filled with test takers.

Yes, we need to “play the state game” and expose our children to these annual state tests; but we also need to have the confidence of knowing that our students are more than simply a single test covering a few days of one school year.

If there are problems, then fix them. But if we allow our schools to be transformed for the sake of some state test, then we are ceasing to educate our children — and beginning to guide them.

And that’s a real shame.