To the Point for 9/21/06

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ACADEMICS? ATHLETICS? It’s a question that has been hovering around ever since kids from one school went out to compete against kids from the nearby school.

But ever since that first contest, there has also been a debate as to how much weight each area gets – from students, from parents, and from the school itself.

Can there be a balance between the two?

This week students across Indiana are taking the ISTEP+ state-mandated test. For sophomores, it is the Gateway Exam – the test that every Indiana high school student has to pass before being allowed to graduate. Parents have been sent home notes and reminders that children need to get plenty of rest and a good breakfast so that they can do their best on the testing.

Since President Bush enacted “No Child Left Behind” at the federal level, educators at the state and local levels have felt the pressure to get not only a vast majority of their students to pass – but eventually all of them must meet a federal standard.

That then filters down to the state level, where state superintendent Dr. Suellen Reed has led the charge to expect higher scores and demand more accountability.

The result? School corporations all over the state scramble each year to get children who are just coming back from summer vacation on the mark and underway in time to make a good showing on the state testing.

The school year now starts earlier, in part, because schools want to get as much education time as possible in before the testing begins.

And this week it all comes to a boil.

Not just here, where year after year Switzerland County students – particularly elementary students – are judged to be among the state’s best; but all over the state. Can you imagine being the principal of an inner city school that hasn’t been performing up to standard, and here comes another “measuring stick” that someone else came up with?

So there’s a lot of pressure this week, not only on the administrators and teachers, but also on the kids who are taking the test. Bad scores could mean less money – although it’s supposed to be exactly the opposite.

So we’ve got students all over the state on pins and needles about these tests, and we tell them that it’s one of the most important things that they will do and that they need to take it very seriously.

But mixed into the entire equation is a series of athletic events that are also occurring during the week.

Athletes are asked to get to bed early and get plenty of rest; but they are also asked to get on a bus and travel to another town for a competition.

Jac-Cen-Del and Rising Sun played soccer deep into the night in a pouring rain earlier this week. Buses from schools all around the area have been traveling all week.

So here’s the question: if the state is focusing on ISTEP results; and the federal government is looking at the state data – how important is it?

Is it important enough to declare a “dead week” for school athletics?

What if the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana High School Athletic Association got together and agreed that during the week that the ISTEP tests are being given, there would be no school night athletic events?

We’re talking four days – Monday through Thursday – where students would have the chance to focus on their academics. No bus rides, no late nights. Allow the student-athlete to be a student for just four days.

Schools could resume playing on Friday night once the testing was completed, and the weekends before and after could be utilized, but there would be a statewide agreement that no teams would play during the testing week.

Heresy! You say.

Well, if our schools are really focused on what they are supposed to be focused on, then rescheduling four days of athletic events for the sake of the students’ academic achievement would be no big deal.

After all – every other school in Indiana would be rescheduling, too.

At all levels of education, we try and stress to our young people that academic achievement needs to be at the forefront, and then we turn around and appear to contradict ourselves when we have them participating in sporting events when they should be home getting some rest for the following day’s testing.

I sent an email to Dr. Reed with this proposal last year. I have yet to hear a response.

Maybe no response is a response.

Maybe – regardless of what “No Child Left Behind” and ISTEP+ mean – the real focus is somewhere else.

And that’s a shame.