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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Schools - and students - of the future

Innovations offer promise of more individualized education

Lynn Simmers

For nearly three decades, schools across the state have administered ISTEP as a means of assessing student learning, with these results used to determine a variety of factors, including a student's achievement and school and teacher quality. However, the data derived from ISTEP have not provided useful information to assist educators in meeting the learning needs of all students.

School and teacher quality should be the result of how learning data, including assessment results, are used to differentiate and improve learning among individual students.

As educational leaders, teachers and parents encouraged policymakers and the State Board of Education to consider legislation that would redefine our current system of assessment, House Enrolled Act 1003 was introduced and passed during the last legislative session.

HEA 1003 defines a new assessment system, Indiana's Learning Evaluation Assessment Readiness Network (ILEARN), which is expected to assess students in mathematics, English/language arts, science and social studies beginning with the 2018-19 school year. Students enrolled in grades 3through 8 will be assessed in English/language arts and mathematics. Science will be assessed in grades 4 and 6, with social studies being assessed in grade 5. End-of-course assessments will be administered in Algebra I, English 10 and Biology I following student completion of the defined course.

ILEARN promises to better leverage computer-adaptive testing in English and mathematics in grades 3-8, which is intended to better inform educators of individual students' strengths and areas of needed growth.

Computer-adaptive testing means the test gets easier or harder depending on how students have responded to previous questions. This type of assessment differs from customary fixed forms of testing, where every student receives a straight set of unchanging questions. Therefore, it is hoped ILEARN will be an assessment that is student-centered and will provide timely and meaningful feedback to teachers and parents on grade-level proficiency and growth toward college- and career-readiness standards.

As high accountability, public scrutiny and pressure for performance continue to pervade educational systems across the nation, we have an opportunity with HEA 1003 and the implementation of ILEARN to positively affect the teaching and learning process with a focus on assessing students for learning and growth.

We have the opportunityto shift the culture of constant test preparation to one that empowers teachers to use and share meaningful data with parents and students to drive instruction in an effort to meet the individual needs of all students. With timely feedback, we have the opportunity to nurture a growth mindset in our students that attributes success to working to improve versus just doing well on a test.

As a parent and educator, I am hopeful that changes to our current assessment system will allow us to truly focus on improved student achievement and professional practice by recognizing and accommodating the vast diversity of students served within our educational system, as well as significantly reducing the amount of time students are engaged in completing state-mandated tests.

Not only will this allow teachers to focus on maximizing instructional time, but it also provides schools with an excellent opportunity to concentrate on nurturing the talent and creativity of each and every student.

As we continue to focus on preparing our students for work, college, life and the careers of tomorrow, I encourage each of us to remember the transformation of education that is necessary to ensure our students succeed.

By empowering students to be facilitators of their own learning who make mistakes, fail forward and use their own assessment data to become better learners, we can challenge our students to achieve more than they ever thought was possible.

I believe each one of us has an effect on student learning. Status quo should not be an option as we think about the learning opportunities our students need, want and deserve as a community. We can talk and dream about the schools of the future or we can go out and create them.

Lynn Simmers is assistant superintendent with Southwest Allen County Schools.