Last-minute changes not fair to students

I usually leave my professional development workshops energized and excited about the information I have learned that day. I can’t wait to get back to my office and share with my staff so we can begin tweaking our counseling program to serve our students and families better.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way I felt after attending my yearly Department of Education (DOE) update for counselors. We covered the normal agenda items; legislative updates, new programs, clarifications on departmental policies and, of course, assessments. And, that’s when it got depressing. I should have known I’d leave my workshop frustrated when the assessment section was at the end of the program. Save the best for last, right?

Our speaker quickly went through his presentation, barely taking time to breathe, because there was so much to share. The one ‘update’ that made my blood boil, however, was the fact that our current freshmen will have to sit through at least two types of state assessments prior to graduation just as our current seniors had to do when they were sophomores. And like the class of 2018, our freshmen will take one test for school accountability purposes — think school letter grade — and one for their graduation qualification exam (GQE).

The kicker is that the department has not yet decided what that GQE will be. Think about that for just a moment. We have students currently taking high school classes who have no idea what they need to do in order to graduate with a diploma. That also means we have teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents who are supporting these students, guiding them in course selection and programming, who don’t have a road map to assist them.

In the past, I have always appreciated the DOE for implementing changes with an incoming class. We’ve known the rules going in to the game. This time, however, because of our need to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and to replace a poorly developed ISTEP+ exam, we’ve been forced to put a timeline in place that requires us to rush a testing change, putting us in the same position we were in two years ago; over-testing a group of students on high stakes exams.

Once again, and I’ve preached this before, we’re not thinking about what’s best for students when we casually change the rules in the middle of the game. In fact, I’m not sure we even know what game we’re playing anymore. Are we testing so we can better assist our students master standards or are we testing just to be compliant?

The state assessment game has become so convoluted that our speaker had to use a full-page, color-coded chart just to keep the current and proposed testing requirements in order for everyone to understand. Shouldn’t it be easier than that?

A best practice in education is preparing students for what they are expected to learn and master. As educators, we should be clearly articulating our educational goals and our expected outcomes to our students, but more importantly, we should be making sure they have all of the required materials they need to reach those goals, and we should be communicating our course objectives and procedures.

As the lead educator in the State of Indiana, why is it that our department of education can’t follow the most basic principles of education in supporting our students when it comes to assessments?

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