ISTEP a far cry from original test’s intentions

I apologize. I wrote the first ISTEP law.

In fact, I believe that it was the first testing regime for public schools in the country and eventually led to No Child Left Behind testing (which was recently watered down by Congress).

In 1984, as a state representative, I conceived the idea, wrote the law, got it passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. It required the testing of only third- and eighth-graders. The results were to be used solely for the purpose of identifying the bottom 15 percent of students so that they could receive remediation to catch them up with their classmates. Neither teachers nor schools were judged by the results. The test was simple and short.

It was so successful that Gov. Bob Orr decided shortly thereafter that he would “improve” on it. The name was changed from Testing and Remediation to ISTEP, and the results were used for additional purposes, which eventually led to where we are today.

The test is loathed by students, teachers and administrators because of the time consumed and its (sometimes inaccurate) scoring being used to judge matters that are already known: teachers know who their problem students are, principals know who their problem teachers are, and superintendents know who their problem principals are.

The large sums of money and time that are consumed could better be used to teach students more. Could we know where our educational system is today without test results? When I was in grade school, students were reading very basic materials all the way through the second grade (anybody else old enough to remember the Dick, Jane and Spot stories where there were few words with more than one syllable in those grades?).

Now, my grandchildren are reading those in kindergarten, and by the first grade, they are reading materials with real substance. I am amazed at the progress. And one grandchild took calculus in his junior year. I could not get that course until my sophomore year in electrical engineering at Purdue. So I don’t need ISTEP results to know that our educational system has greatly improved.

The real problem is that there are too many of our children who don’t benefit from our improved educational system because they drop out, or are pushed out, of school.

These children suffer the consequences of not having a diploma for the rest of their lives. A Gates Foundation report shows that the rest of us also pay for that as well; over a dropout’s lifetime, it costs taxpayers on average $2 million each in welfare benefits and incarceration time (dropouts are eight times more likely to serve jail time).

So let’s rethink the whole mess that I started.

Hancock County attorney Ray Richardson served as a state representative from 1966-1990.