Teaching has given way to tedious testing

It’s March, and that means it’s time for madness. Unfortunately for schools, I don’t mean the kind that involves basketballs and brackets. For those of us in education, it means the start of testing season instead of championship season. But, unlike the NCAA tournament, which lasts for four weeks, our madness starts in March and won’t end until May.

I recently pulled up the 2015-16 Indiana Assessment Windows page on the Department of Education website. It lists more than a page of different required tests given in the state of Indiana and the days our schools are required to give each one; ISTEP, IREAD-3, ECA, ISTAR, WIDA, ACCUPLACER, and NAEP — an alphabet soup of tests with testing windows that twist and wrap around each other, leaving almost no time for educators and students to do what they should be doing this spring, teaching and learning.

In a column in the Jan. 9 edition of the Daily Reporter, Hancock County resident Ray Richardson, the father of ISTEP testing, apologized for the debacle our state testing has become.

His intentions as a former legislator were good; he wanted to pen a law creating a test that would allow schools to know which students needed summer remediation. But, like many good ideas that are overseen by politicians, Richardson’s noble piece of legislation has become a nightmare for teachers and parents — but most importantly, students.

We no longer have adequate funding for summer school programs, especially at the lower grade levels where it is most critically needed, so our students who need help are not receiving it. Instead, the collected data now serves to punish or reward schools, not support students.

If you are unlucky enough to be in the class of 2018 taking Algebra I, Biology, and English 10 this year, not only will you take your graduation exams, End of Course Assessments (ECAs), in all of those classes, you will also take five ISTEP exams in March and four more ISTEP exams in May in those same subject areas.

And, if your school was lucky enough to be chosen to pilot questions for the testing company, you might have to take an additional test in order to test questions for future exams.

I could calculate the number of hours our students will be testing this spring, but I think you get the idea. Our students are spending too much time preparing to test and testing rather than learning and, right now, only the testing company is winning.

In case you think I’m just another educator who doesn’t like testing because of the school accountability factor, please know that my master’s degree research promoted the idea of merit pay for teachers.

Eighteen years ago when I wrote that paper, it was a cutting edge idea and not necessarily a popular one. I do believe that schools and teachers have a responsibility to their students to be the best they can be at their craft and that school accountability is appropriate in this day and age.

However, putting a school’s accountability grade in the hands of 9- to 16-years-olds is a little dicey.

For example, those students in the class of 2018, the ones who have to take two sets of tests this year, hold the key to their high school’s accountability grade and not with the test that determines whether or not they graduate (ECA), but with the test that is a pilot test for the state of Indiana (ISTEP).

Who really thinks that they will take the ISTEP exam more seriously than the one that decides whether they will graduate? Not schools, that’s for sure.

In the past few weeks, I have been pleasantly surprised to see the testing pendulum swing back to more sensible ideas and usages.

For example, our legislators are currently considering revisions and cutbacks to ISTEP testing time. It is my hope that those who control ISTEP’s destiny remember that it should be about the students and assisting them in becoming champions in the academic world. Period.

Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at kimskile@gmail.com.