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School districts question state standardized tests

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Public school officials who claim the state puts too much stock in standardized test results said they would prefer a system that evaluates students on skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. last week revealed its most recent draft of a resolution that calls for the state to develop a new

accountability system based on multiple forms of assessment — not just standardized tests.

Although the resolution would have no legal bearing, it would demonstrate the school system’s unity with other school districts that are fed up with what they claim is a flawed system — one that, among other things, grades schools by comparing students across the state to one another.

Teresa Heiny, the district’s director of elementary education, said she would prefer a system that scraps the state’s A-F accountability scale, which focuses on a snapshot of class-by-class performance in math and English, in favor of one or more that track students’ growth over the years.

The A-F system was established about two years ago by Tony Bennett, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction who was ousted by voters in his November re-election bid.

Bill Jensen, the district’s director of secondary education, said the best replacement for A-F accountability would be one that tests students on the innovation and creativity they eventually will need to land good-paying jobs.

He said the local district’s requirement that 12th-grade students complete senior projects should serve as a model for other school corporations.

Jensen said those projects are inexpensive for the school district and show students’ capacity for real-world skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

Heiny and Jensen said they do not know exactly what should replace the A-F accountability scale. But they are optimistic that Glenda Ritz, the state’s new superintendent of public instruction, will enact significant changes.

Ritz has said she wants to move away from the A-F model, partly because it compares students’ improvement with that of others around the state, instead of on how well they’re improving in their own schools, according to a question-and-answer session published Dec. 1 in the Johnson County Daily Journal, a sister paper of The Republic.

She told the Daily Journal she wants Indiana to find and start using tests that better gauge how much students are learning in a single year, a process she referred to as growth-model measures.

Any changes to this or any other state law created under Bennett must be approved by the Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence.

Elementary schools in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. administer literacy and math assessments for children in kindergarten through second grade. One is DIBELS, which stands for the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills.

Those tests have no ramifications for those students and are not required by the state.

Instead, DIBELS exams serve as gauges for teachers who want to know where students stand and how to better meet their educational needs.

Kindergarten through second-grade students are required by the local school corporation to take IRead, a measuring stick for reading prowess that the state created to help schools monitor student progress and tailor their instruction.

The state does not require IRead for kindergarten through second-grade students. The school corporation administers the test because it allows the schools to qualify for grants that vary from year to year.

The state requires third-graders to take the IRead test. Students must pass the exam to advance to fourth-grade reading lessons, a requirement that Ritz has said she wants to eliminate.

Heiny said third- through eighth-grade students take the ISTEP-Plus exam, a state-required test that measures student achievement in English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies at certain grade levels.

Jensen said all high school students must pass end-of-course assessments in Algebra 1 and English 10 to graduate. The state requires that those assessments be administered.

Although the SAT and ACT exams are not required, Jensen said colleges rely on them heavily when they evaluate which graduating seniors to accept into their institutions, making them a must for many high school students.

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