Adults fail the test. Early in my career as a principal, a middle school social studies teacher remarked that only half of the eighth-graders passed a recent test. His tone seemed to suggest that he was very satisfied that he had created a test so challenging that only half passed.
I suggested to him that the students had not failed, but rather we had failed the students. Knowing the students were motivated learners, either the assessment was inappropriate or the instruction was inappropriate. The students had done their job; we had not done our job.
We have a scenario now where the Indiana Department of Education in concert with the State Board of Education has set ISTEP (Indiana Testing for Educational Progress) cut scores such that 40 percent of students statewide will fail. It defies logic that 40 percent would fail this year when 80 percent passed last year and the passing trend in recent years has been improving. Our formative data illustrate steady, consistent improvement in learning. We know our teachers are continually better facilitators and our students are continually better learners. What purpose does it serve to skew the results so negatively?
The state claims that a lower base score will give students and schools an opportunity for growth. But with the ISTEP vendor changing yet again next year, the rationale makes little sense. It will be a whole new test and a whole new ballgame next year.
Of equally little sense is the process by which test questions are determined. The norming process for standardizing test questions selects those questions where half the students answer correctly and half answer incorrectly. If too many students answer correctly or incorrectly, that question is thrown out. By design then, the state sorts and labels students across a continuum. It’s a strategy that ensures someone will always fail and provides little value toward helping a teacher with instructional strategies.
In Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., our product is learning. Our students, faculty and staff are getting better and better at delivering the product. Indiana’s current test-driven system does not help us evaluate the product. Forty percent of our students are not failing. Rather, a testing program designed to produce poor results shows that adults in the Statehouse are failing our students.
My door is always open.
John Quick is superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.