Let's put ISTEP+
in its proper place
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 10:00 PM
Here's a question to ponder on this hump day: Is there anyone outside of the Indiana Department of Education offices who thinks ISTEP+ is worth all we have invested in it?
Frank has reported on the news, events and people of west-central Indiana for years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He graduated with a degree in education from Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, Ill.
Is there anyone who thinks it is worth all the heartache that goes into preparing for it or all the hype that comes when the scores are announced?
Understand, ISTEP+ should be only one tool of several used to determine if children are learning optimally in our public schools.
It is fascinating each year when the scores are released at the corporation level to see how the media swarms to obtain information on how local corporations did compared to the state average.
A quick search indicated to me last week that it took some care to find the DOE web page containing the spreadsheet of scores and the comments by the DOE on how the state average changed in the past year because of all the stories the media posted on ISTEP+ results. Naturally, the question then became, how did our schools do? Did they also improve at the level as the state corporations on average? When you consider averages, remember an average is the best of the worst and the worst of the best.
South Montgomery Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Shawn Greiner was able to bring an outsider's perspective to the ISTEP+ process when he told me about problems caused by technical malfunctions in the school corporation he served last year before coming to New Market. Around the state, testing was interrupted by equipment malfunctions and as a result some students' tests completely disappeared altogether.
Even the state DOE cautioned everyone that the scores presented last week could and would change as students' scores are removed and adjusted which will probably improve the scores of the individual schools and the the corporations.
It seems to me that ISTEP+ has short circuited the educational process in these ways:
Teachers must feel pressure to teach to the material being tested by ISTEP+ instead of being more concerned about individual students' needs. When I took undergraduate education classes in college, we were taught repeatedly, "You teach people, not material." The message was this: like a football team, you adjust your strategy to help your students (your team) move ahead. I imagine teachers are pressured to forget that principle as they seek to teach ISTEP+ material.
ISTEP+ also assumes all schools and all children in the state are the same. Really? Do we really want schools to take a cookie cutter approach to education instead of treating students as individuals? It would be ideal if parents took more interest in their children's education. Many can't because of pressures at work, especially in a stagnant economy when those jobs depend on more productivity and longer hours.
It is always fascinating to me that so few parents take an interest in school board meetings. Very few people outside the school corporations attend those meetings.
Do parents go to parent teacher conferences any more? Are parent and teacher organizations active any more?
I'm not saying throw away ISTEP+, but it would be a good idea if other evaluation tools were more highly regarded and the ISTEP+ scores were downplayed, at least a tad.