April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Duck Ponderings: Slay the school-testing monster

In 2006, Indiana legislators asked the Department of Education to have meetings around the state to get input related to ISTEP+. My wife and I traveled to Jennings County High School to express our concerns. When speaking, I stated several points with a few below:

"I don't think anyone is questioning the importance of being accountable; however, the testing monster just gets bigger and bigger. Reports suggest teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate. Student drop-out rate continues to be a concern. When looking at factors, it is our opinion that we must take a serious look at our present emphasis on the standardized testing system. For our two children, we fondly recall the preschool and k-2 years with no required standardized testing!

Question structure, complex questions involving several steps to determine the final answer, and long multiple choice decoys add to testing time while often causing confusion and frustration.

There must be concern for testing stress and how our young people are handling it. It is our hope someone is monitoring it carefully! When a child sees Did Not Pass on ISTEP+ year after year despite great attendance, commendable behavior, and much effort and gains, it must be very frustrating. I have seen tears flowing down the cheeks of a fifth grader when seeing those words. Could such frustration eventually lead to behavioral changes, smoking, drinking, other drugs, self-mutilating, dropping out, or even suicide? Then, what has been gained?

It is our opinion that there is way too much failing and finger pointing and not enough learning celebrations and applauding in education. The common sense pendulum must return!"

Later, in 2009, I sent a letter to several people at the state level which included the following points:

"Like others, I feel a need to express my sentiments in regard to the Spring ISTEP+ Applied Math Tests. During the first day of testing, I was fighting mad as a teacher and as a parent! The opening question was extremely difficult, and students immediately started questioning their math abilities. Unfortunately, the questions continued in their difficulty level and students continued to struggle which lowered their self-confidence. To their credit, students could have quit but most still tried to process the material. Afterward, it was my responsibility to somehow up shift them for the remaining tests.

When attending the Department of Education ISTEP+ sessions in 2006, we heard voice after voice expressing legitimate testing concerns. One point was to always consider the readiness factor while constructing tests. Even our most advanced math students were not developmentally ready for the 2009 Applied Math Tests. The tests seemed quite contrary to the suggestions we heard that day!

On the front of the ISTEP+ Teacher's Manual, there are the following words: Indiana Department of Education-SUPPORTING STUDENT SUCCESS. With each day and with each activity, we all need to stay focused on those words while maintaining a proper balance between programs and testing in striving to meet the individual needs of each child.."

Then, what happened with the 2015 ISTEP? About half of our students in Indiana failed. What did we do with the hours of testimony in 2006, other years? Have we heard an apology for the damage? Who must reassure our young people that failing a standardized test does not determine their future? Be furious! It is as wrong as wrong can be! Our students deserve better; our educators deserve better; our schools deserve better; and, our communities deserve better! Demand better! Slay the testing monster![[In-content Ad]]