By JEFF ABBOTT
Local guest columnist
In the past few weeks we have heard horror stories from throughout Indiana about testing under ISTEP+ — particularly the overload of the computer system and the failure of the testing company’s servers to handle the testing.
This caused Indiana to suspend testing after it had begun. Indiana State Board of Education members expressed frustration about what Indiana educators and education policymakers widely viewed as a disastrous testing experience.
Several state board members expressed concern about the validity of an ISTEP+ that had to be suspended several times in the first week of testing. One publicly admitted that the data was now “tainted.” Another called the recent ISTEP+ glitch “embarrassing.”
Teachers and principals all over the state are justifiably angry. Not only is a teacher’s pay based on students’ ISTEP+ results, but employment can be canceled if scores are not up to par.
Moreover, there are serious constitutional questions about a system that determines teachers’ pay and continued employment on questionable standardized testing, but that is a discussion to be left for another day.
Four years ago, research published by the Indiana Policy Review Foundation found that the state would likely spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars on ISTEP+ testing alone. This was a direct cost only and did not include the cost of teacher, counselor, para-professional and principal salaries incurred in the ISTEP+ administration.
Despite this enormous cost, however, Indiana educational policymakers continued to expand standardized testing of Indiana students.
A partial list includes: Acuity (grades 3-8, Algebra I, English 10); End of Course Assessments (Algebra I, English 10, Biology I); IMAST (grades 3-8); Indiana Course-Aligned Assessments; IREAD K-2; IREAD-3; ISTAR; ISTAR-KR; ISTEP+ (grades 3-8); LASLinks (K-12); mCLASS (K-2); National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — grades 4, 8, 12; and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — all aligned to Common Core State Standards.
In summary, a behemoth standardized-testing industry continues to expand here even as important questions go unanswered.
Why have Indiana policymakers not authorized a study of the direct and indirect costs of standardized testing in Indiana?
What are the annual direct costs and indirect costs of such testing?
Is the testing valid, reliable and does it accurately measure the quality of teachers, principals and schools performance?
Does the testing improve the amount and quality of student learning?
Are there better and less costly ways to measure student, teacher and principal performance, and hold them accountable for learning?
Are there better and less costly ways to improve student learning?
So our policymakers support educational testing that not only could cost more than a billion dollars over the next decade, but may be redundant or, worse, have no meaningful impact on student academic achievement.
Indiana cannot continue to make its education decisions on the herd mentality of educrats or what standardized-testing companies may give to political campaigns. Rather, those decisions must be made on the gold standard of all research, i.e., using control groups and intervention groups to study the impact of standardized testing.
— Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is an education consultant living in Fort Wayne. An attorney, Abbott was a superintendent of Indiana public schools and an instructor in the graduate school of education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.