Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Testing madness needs to stop

The following op-ed by NEIFPE's Co-founder Phyllis Bush appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on May 4, and the Fort Wayne News Sentinel on May 6.

May 4
'Testing madness needs to stop': Pressure on students warps learning experience

May 6
We must find an alternative to high-stakes testing

by Phyllis Bush

O, brave new world, that has such tests in it, that cause so much angst for children, teachers, families, and schools, and that is so quickly forgotten once the testing trauma is over. Haven’t we all grown weary of hearing about the latest ISTEP+ debacles?

In many respects, it is heartening news that five local education and business leaders have been appointed to the new statewide ISTEP+ review panel; however, doesn’t this beg the question of what is at the heart of the testing issue? Our education policymakers seem to believe that if we replace ISTEP+ with another test, all will be right in the world.

During the past week I have heard from area teachers that the problems in this year’s tests have been a nightmare thanks to technology glitches and because of the distress of children. Recognizing that there are serious problems is the first step that the ISTEP+ review panel should address, but perhaps the more pertinent issue that really needs to be examined is the very idea of high-stakes testing.

Since the state has handcuffed school districts, teachers and parents from opting out of the test, have our policymakers seriously considered the damaging effects on children that have been caused by the consequences of all of the technological failures when computer screens say fail?

Educators understand that there are only two instructionally sound reasons for testing: diagnostic and evaluative purposes. Here in Indiana, we are using these tests for neither of those reasons. Whether tests are standardized or teacher-generated, testing that is punitive in nature is both damaging and wrong. Is this what we want for our children? Do we want children to be learners and thinkers, or do we want them to be expert test takers?

Is it fair to punish schools with closings or less funding and teachers with poor evaluations for the consequence of test scores? Is it fair to punish a child because he is who he is or because he performed how he performed?

Besides the inherent damage to schools and children being caused by high-stakes testing for dubious accountability purposes, we need to consider the fiscal damage to our state. When the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education first began researching the cost of testing in 2012, we found that ISTEP+ testing in Indiana was costing taxpayers $48 million. Last fall, we were surprised to find that the total cost of testing is much more elusive. From all of our research, the estimates for testing in this state range wildly from $56 million to $130 million.

Ever since 2008, when $300 million was slashed from school funding and then followed up by tax caps, public schools have been struggling financially. Class sizes have ballooned, and resources, including transportation, have been cut. Setting aside the fiscal irresponsibility of our state legislature, couldn’t this money be better spent on providing resources to our schools?

We have been told that standards and accountability are what are important in making our schools better. Common sense tells us there are much better ways of holding schools accountable. By trusting our principals and administrators and allowing them to do their jobs as educational and building leaders, we might find that all of these spurious accountability measures would be unnecessary.

Maybe it is time to consider another method of accountability besides high-stakes testing. Tests like ISTEP+ or whatever its replacement may be have shown to be detrimental to children’s health, well-being and real academic progress and have been used as an excuse to divert much-needed resources from schools to hand over to for-profit companies – and to waste our tax dollars.

This testing madness needs to stop.


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