Still waiting … Educators seeking changes to school bills

By Kim Kile

Dear Indiana General Assembly,

It’s March, which means you are more than halfway through the 2017 legislative session, and those of us who have chosen to educate Indiana’s children are anxiously awaiting to learn what new legislation you enact this year with regard to schools. According to your legislative deadlines, you are now at a point where the House is reviewing bills that made it out of the Senate and the Senate is reviewing bills that came out of the House. In reading through the more than 150 proposed bills under the education heading, I must admit I believe you are making this harder than it needs to be. I can make this process much easier for you by giving you a priority list. Let’s start with our youngest Hoosiers.

First, you must fund prekindergarten education for every preschooler who falls below the poverty line. For too long, Indiana has ignored the needs of these students, and school corporations with high rates of poverty have paid the price. One look at ISTEP+ passing rates and school grades in these districts highlights what happens when students start behind their privileged peers in other parts of the state. Shame on you, Senate, for slashing the $10 million proposed budget by Gov. Holcomb to a mere $3 million. Let’s hope your counterparts in the House see the wisdom in making sure all prekindergarten students begin at the starting line together with the skills they need to find success in school.

Speaking of ISTEP+, you must find a way to revamp the current testing programs required of Indiana’s schools and students. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, but Indiana students are being tested to death, and at a cost that would pay for many of the other initiatives that would have a greater impact on student learning (see the above paragraph.) Beyond the fiscal cost, testing is also costing instructional time. Two years ago, the proposed budget for testing was more than $130 million, and testing time for schools is a minimum of two weeks, more for high schools. If monitoring student growth over time is the desired outcome for standardized testing, as well as meeting federal mandates, then one test has already proven it can do the job: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Iowa Tests of Educational Development, depending on grade level.

Unfortunately, the proposed Senate bill to make these Indiana’s statewide assessments failed to make it out of committee, so educators will be anxiously awaiting ISTEP+ 2.0. We simply ask that you shorten the testing time.

While you’re at it, though, could you please do high schools a favor by no long requiring that they give the ACCUPLACER exam two times per year? We get the same data from the PSAT, so cut the budget and use the saved money for my next initiative.

In one of the bills that passes, please find a way to fund remediation efforts at all levels. Currently, elementary, intermediate and junior high schools have little to no funding to work over the summer with students who demonstrate they are behind their grade level based on the expensive tests we give. What good is it to test our students, learn where they are falling short and then provide no remediation outside of the school day for them to grow their skills? From a school’s point of view, this is a frustrating shortfall we face every year.

By prioritizing the education bills and eliminating the ones that have no business making it this far (setting a state-wide school calendar, legislating what schools teach about winter holidays and requiring schools who want an “A” rating to teach at least one agricultural class, for example), you can spend more time on other important issues like repairing our roads.

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