The Journal Gazette
Sunday, February 16, 2020 1:00 am


Test looming for lawmakers on education

Test-weary high school students have one less high-stakes exam to worry about. The days of sweating over SAT or ACT scores are numbered.

“Research shows that high school GPA (grade point average) is by far the best indicator of future college success,” said David Chappell, director of enrollment management at Indiana University Fort Wayne, in an email. “Across the country, colleges and universities are moving to test-optional admissions practices to increase accessibility by recognizing that an individual student's ability to succeed may not be fully represented by a standardized test score. We will maintain our admissions integrity, academic standards and level of selectivity, while providing applicants the choice whether or not to include standardized test scores in our holistic review of their academic preparation.”

The Fort Wayne campus joins IU campuses across the state in adopting test-optional admissions. Ball State University, Hanover College, Earlham College, the University of Evansville and St. Mary's College are also test-optional.More than 1,000 colleges and universities have now dropped test-score requirements.

While higher education has come to accept that high-stakes tests are an imperfect measure for their purpose, K-12 policymakers at the Indiana Statehouse aren't backing off, even as they spend millions of dollars to arrive at test scores repeatedly deemed worthless.

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 2 into law on Wednesday, effectively dumping the results of last spring's new ILEARN assessment. Just over 37% of students in grades 3-8 achieved proficiency on both the math and English/language arts portions of the test, a nearly 15% decline over proficiency rates on the previous year's ISTEP+ exam.

The plummeting scores meant schools statewide faced accountability letter grades of C or D. House and Senate leaders scrambled to “hold harmless” schools and teachers from the effects of the test scores, as they did in 2015 when an updated ISTEP+ exam yielded the same results. For those keeping track, test scores will have produced usable letter grades only three times over a six-year period. Not a stellar record, and certainly a waste of tax dollars.

The broken assessment system is one reason more than 15,000 Indiana teachers marched at the Statehouse on Nov. 18. Many are expected to return Monday for a rally organized by the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. Phil Downs, Southwest Allen County Schools superintendent and Indiana Superintendent of the Year, is among the speakers. He said last week he will talk about the impact of the state's voucher program and other issues, including testing.

“For 20 years, Indiana's accountability system has been designed by people who were not intimately doing the work, and the results have been tumultuous,” Downs said. “Perhaps allowing K-12 educators to design the system would be a good approach; they are the ones with actual skin in the game.”

Tests have always been an important tool for educators to determine whether students are learning. But they also know when an exam is an ineffective tool, as college-level educators have determined with admissions tests.

Voters face their own high-stakes test in November, when they will elect a governor who will, in turn, select the first appointed state superintendent. Now's the time to ask gubernatorial candidates Holcomb and Woody Myers where they stand on educators' role in student testing.

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