aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,
aefenglommung
aefenglommung

Testing: scenes from the battlefield

So, the latest controversy over public schools in Indiana concerns the mammoth testing all schools are supposed to administer every year, the ISTEP+. That stands for "Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus." I remember when ISTEP was first deployed, back in the late 1980s. I was studying for a Ph.D. in Secondary Education: Curriculum and Instruction, and I remember the run-up to the first ISTEP and the immediate aftermath thereof.

We were told that ISTEP was necessary because schools were failing to educate our kids. That's not news, but nobody had a quantifiable way of describing the problem so as to address ourselves to fixing it. We were told that we needed a testing regime with teeth. All the kids in grades 5, 8, and 11 (I think those were the grades) would take the test and there would be mandatory summer school for those who didn't score well enough in one category or another. That would fix the problem, by gum!

Well, the test was duly administered all over Indiana, and lo! and behold, fewer students were mandated to attend summer school than was expected. Did the school authorities rejoice? No. They decided the test wasn't hard enough and would be redesigned so the number of kids expected to fail would be achieved!

Note what just happened there: Instead of celebrating the better-than-anticipated performance of our children, we set out to fail more of them. In other words, the State school gurus had already decided how many kids needed to be remediated (on the basis of no scientific evidence whatsoever), and they would screw the test down on their little thumbs until they'd caught enough of them to feel like they'd done something to improve education. On the basis of the very craft of assessing performance we teach in our own education schools, this is a load of codswallop.

Well, the test has been done, and re-done, and then of course, done over to match up with the goals of No Child Left Behind (whatever they were). But there is still no validation that it proves anything other than we can fail as many kids (and schools) as we want by manipulating the test. The first problem with public schools is that nobody is allowed to answer The Curricular Question, and say what knowledge is of most worth. That, we could devise an adequate test for, if we could but answer honestly what we were supposed to be doing with our little darlings doing the school year.

Now, please note that the original ISTEP was designed with the full cooperation of the Teacher Education gurus and the State Department of Public Instruction as well as the Governor and General Assembly. It was the public school establishment who saddled our schools with this monstrosity. The thing is, once you've set out to use testing to determine who gets rewarded and who doesn't in the field of public education, anybody with sufficient political clout gets to have a say on who gets tested, over what, and with what rewards.

Which brings us to the current brouhaha in which the Governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction are in open war over, well, everything. Testing is just another weapon that both sides want to pre-determine the results of. The politicos want to prove that the schoolmen are doing a poor job, in order to build a mandate for change; the schoolmen want to prove that they're doing as well as could be expected and could do better if they could just get more funding to do what they've always done.
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