It has been eight years since the state Legislature put into law that schools will be judged by A-F grades that result from the state’s testing program. Eight years of turmoil and stress in our schools for both students and teachers. Eight years of shifting the purpose of testing from examining the learning of our students to placing grades on the schools for the purpose of promoting school choice.
The testing system has changed twice in these eight years to adjust to the more rigorous learning standards and to present a more accurate picture of student preparation for college and career readiness. The tests cannot be compared to previous tests and stand alone in their results. Indiana has revamped the testing system to be untimed and computer adaptive so that the test is more fair and tailored for individual students. In the next few years, I have confidence that schools will adjust to the new mode of testing and students will be more comfortable with the format.
However, once again, the State Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction find themselves discussing a “hold harmless” legislative approach to issuing school grades due to the new passing threshold of the new ILEARN test, indicating that many more schools would receive a drop in letter grades. Indiana continues to insist that schools will be evaluated by A-F grades, based upon the test, despite that federal guidelines have expanded the types of metrics that can be used to measure student learning in addition to the test scores.
In a Chalkbeat story, Rep. Bob Behning said that he would support a one-year “hold harmless” exemption, but that revamping the A-F system may be “a bit premature.” He also said, “I would continue to argue that parents understand letter grades.” A bit premature? It has been eight years and still the grades tied to one test (and teacher evaluation) do not reflect the learning that happens in our schools nor the efforts of our teachers. And I have not found parents to be focused on the letter grade of a school when deciding where their children will attend. The state’s letter grades don’t take into account the safe and caring learning environment for each child, which is what parents primarily look for in a school.
Dr. Jennifer McCormick, the current superintendent, is pushing for the use of a state accountability model that incorporates multiple measures within the federal guidelines for school accountability. She is right to do so to give a clearer picture of each school’s learning progress. I hope all educators and parents actively lobby the Legislature to not only replace the A-F system but to also decouple teacher evaluation from the test scores.
Despite the continued debate, there is one shining light in the new ILEARN test: Results now give teachers and parents reading literacy Lexile scores. This was my number one objective in revamping the ISTEP test when I was superintendent. I was unable to achieve this goal because of politics. I am thrilled for educators to have this vital piece of information that drives all test scores.
Schools will begin their adjustment to the different mode of testing and hopefully reading will be a primary focus for schools. In 2017, I wrote an IBJ article headlined “Literacy is Key to Better Results—on Tests and in Life” to emphasize that every test is first a test on the student’s ability to read, even on the math portion of the test. With this new literacy data, it is time to refocus our efforts on reading to improve learning for Indiana’s youth.•
Ritz, a Democrat, is a former state superintendent of public instruction. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more Forefront columns.