The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 10, 2020 1:00 am

Teacher pay touted, testing derided at education forum

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

A member of the Indiana Senate Education Committee said Thursday he'd like to see statewide standardized testing in schools eliminated.

“We don't need a state test of any kind,” Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, told more than 100 people attending a public education forum at Carroll High School.

“Most all teachers I think know their students, they know what they're doing in the classroom, they know if they're learning or not learning, they're giving them their quizzes,” said Kruse, a former chairman of the education panel. 

“I don't think that the federal government ought to be telling us” to test students, “and I don't think we ought to be telling the local schools. I would be in favor of doing away with the statewide test totally,” he said.

The audience applauded his remarks, which were echoed by other legislators appearing at the forum.

“You can't judge performance and success by a test like that,” said Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City. Abbott also said, “I think the teachers and the schools are doing a pretty fine job” on their own.

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said the General Assembly has spent $133 million on standardized testing in recent years, including $42 million on the ILEARN test, which less than half the state's students passed.

“I agree with Sen. Kruse. I know we have to do a test, but let's look at one that's practical and doesn't have to cost so much money,” said GiaQuinta, the House minority leader. “The good news is I feel like we're starting to undo a lot of things that we've done in the legislature in the past few years.”

He mentioned “hold harmless” legislation advancing at the Indiana General Assembly. It would withhold penalties for two years against schools whose students performed poorly on ILEARN.

Such “high-stakes testing,” GiaQuinta said, “is really detrimental to the classroom and to teachers overall.”

Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, pointed out that states can lose federal funds if they abandon standardized tests.

“I don't think anybody is really going to go that route any time soon, so we have to manage it better,” Brown said. She said assigning letter grades to schools based on their test scores “is not the most perfect” evaluation tool.

Charger Advocates, a parents group at Northwest Allen County Schools, sponsored the 90-minute forum. Legislators also answered audience questions about the state's low teacher pay and public school vouchers that can be used by students at private schools.

“Teacher salaries are set at the local level. ... It is a local decision on how many of those dollars actually go into the classroom,” Brown said.

Abbott said legislators should consider reducing or removing “unnecessary burdensome regulations” imposed by the state that add to school expenses.

GiaQuinta said, “We need to keep putting more money into the system, in my mind, for traditional public schools.”

The General Assembly has increased public education spending by $1 billion in the last three years, Kruse said, “and I think we need to keep doing that. I think it's not good that our teachers are not getting a starting salary of at least $40,000. I think there's still some schools where you're making $32,000 or $33,000 ... (for) a beginning teacher, which I think is too low.”

GiaQuinta expressed his opposition to the state's school voucher system. Enabling legislation pitched as a way “to help poor students trapped in a failing school” has instead turned vouchers into “more of a scholarship” for any student to attend private and charter schools, he said.

But Brown said that “the largest number of parents” are using school choice options to send their children to public school districts outside their home districts. 

“The goal ultimately is they, their parents, find a place where they will get the best education,” she said.

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