State schools chief Tony Bennett said he wants a renewed commitment from parents, students and schools to improve test
scores after results released today showed that about 70 percent of Indiana students passed their spring exams.
believes 90 percent of students should be passing the statewide tests in math and English, and said everyone involved with
teaching children — including himself — should take responsibility for the scores and act to improve them.
"I’ve grown sick and tired of hearing parents and students make excuses like, ‘I can’t learn math,’ or ‘I didn’t
learn math very well when I was in school, therefore my child can’t,’ or educators saying ‘We can’t control some of the factors
that involve children who walk into our schools,’" Bennett said. "I’m very sympathetic to some of the circumstances
that affect a child’s ability to learn, but that cannot stop us from having high expectations."
But high expectations
alone won’t raise the passing rate.
Parents need to send students to school every day ready to learn, Bennett said,
and schools need to make sure students get the help they need to do well on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational
Bennett, a Republican who became state superintendent of public instruction in January, said
he’ll keep pushing for changes that have already ruffled some feathers.
He wants to change teaching licensing standards
to eliminate some requirements and have potential teachers learn more about the subjects they’ll teach than how to teach,
but opponents say the changes would not improve teacher quality.
Bennett also wants more competition among schools
— including virtual and charter schools. He hinted today that he would ask the General Assembly for more options during
the 2010 legislative session.
Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the
union supports Bennett’s goal of improving the test scores, but that teacher licensing changes and more school competition
won’t push passing rates to 90 percent.
"I don’t think those two things are going to make that kind of difference,"
he said. "We don’t see educating children as a competitive event."
The union suggests giving schools
more help if they have large numbers of students in groups that often struggle on state tests, such as non-English speakers,
children in poverty and those with learning disabilities. It also wants all schools to offer full-day kindergarten classes.
Across Indiana, 70 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 passed the English portion of the state test, while 71
percent passed math. Only 62 percent of students in grades that took a science test passed, while just 59 percent of those
who took a social studies portion passed.
The results are the first available from recent spring tests. The exams
had traditionally been given in the fall, but were administered twice during the 2008-2009 school year to keep Indiana in
compliance as it shifted to spring testing.
Overall spring passing rates were similar to the fall numbers, although
the Indiana Department of Education said the scores could not be compared because the spring test was a new exam.
Several teachers and parents complained about the spring test, saying it was harder than the old exam and caused some children
to give up or start crying. The Education Department later eliminated about 35 questions that were found to be out of alignment
with state standards, and those questions were not scored as part of the results.
Bennett said the test has been
scrutinized, and believes that if students aren’t passing, they don’t know the material.
"We will never, ever
get better if we make things easier," Bennett said.