Education shouldn’t be all about politics


Vincennes Sun-Commercial

ISTEP scores were in the news again, but their release by the Indiana Department of Education was somewhat anticlimactic, not drawing as much attention as in prior years.

What attention the scores did attract was, predictably, overwhelmingly negative, given just how discredited ISTEP has become in the educational community.

Given the system in which they must succeed, schools are reduced to teaching the test — or even teaching how to take the test — rather than being able to focus on how to best serve individual students, to prepare them to be fruitful contributors to the state and country — and, increasingly, to the world.

There’s learning going on in classrooms today, but we’re not sure that it qualifies as education.

The Legislature agreed this year to replace the embattled ISTEP test, although the committee that’s been studying what will come next can’t seem either to agree or to find a suitable substitute.

We use to hear about all kinds of alternatives to ISTEP — or the Indiana Statewide Testing Educational Progress examination, to give it its formal title — tests that were both more-accurate in measuring student educational progress and (perhaps more importantly) much cheaper to administer.

It’s hard to gauge just what members of the committee believe should be the state’s next step; the Associated Press this week reported the members were “divided” over what they should recommend to lawmakers, whether they should offer generalities or be specific in their report to lawmakers.

Our guess is that whatever the committee recommends, lawmakers will likely head off in their own direction.

The incoming state superintendent for public instruction, Jennifer McCormick, currently the superintendent at Yorktown, says she hopes to “refocus education back on the classroom” and minimize the politics that have long dominated the debate.

We wish her luck.

Partisan politics and public education have been intertwined for so long that trying to depreciate the former in favor of strengthening the latter would be an accomplishment akin to settling the dust surrounding the future of the designated hitter.

ISTEP scores are only a part of the much-larger debate over public education in Indiana, about how local schools are to be held accountable to the communities they serve.

Lawmakers have argued for an accountability built on numbers — accountability by quantification — which has in some way or another been part and parcel of education from the beginning. We all got grades in school — letter grades built on the scores we received on homework assignments, reports, presentations, quizzes, tests, term papers, the odd extra-credit assignment when your grade was teetering between pass and fail.

We don’t think that some form of grading system will ever be completely eliminated from how lawmakers decide to dole out the public-education money. What we hope is that whatever that system turns out to be, it will also include more intangible factors, such as how alumni feel about their alma mater as well as how communities themselves judge the success of their schools.

How its graduates are faring 10 or 20 years after graduation should also factor into judging the success of a school.

Education is the most-important public service the state of Indiana can provide Hoosiers.

It’s therefore too important to be at the mercy of political ideology.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to