The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 01, 2019 1:00 am

ILEARN fails as effective student measuring stick

Chris Himsel

The Indiana Department of Education plans to release aggregate scores for schools and districts throughout the state on or after Wednesday.

ILEARN is the state-mandated test that replaced ISTEP+.

ILEARN represents the sixth time the state tests, the standards tested on the tests, or the company administering the tests has changed since 2009, and the third since 2015. Each change resulted in a new state-defined passing score. For this and many other reasons, the “passing” results are arbitrary.

Schools and districts have been informed that the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the newly defined “passing” scores is much lower than in previous years.

The lower scores do not reflect a lack of performance by our students, teachers or schools.

Instead, the scores highlight the misuse of standardized tests and the fallacy of one-size-fits-all testing and accountability systems. Indiana began implementing the fallacy with PL 221 more than 20 years ago after passage of the federal law, No Child Left Behind.

ILEARN is a standardized test. Scores do not signify what any child knows or does not know, nor do scores signify what a child is or is not capable of achieving. Instead, they signify how a child compares, at a moment in time, to other Indiana children who took the test.

Combining all scores generates a normal curve. The normal curve identifies an average score.

A standard deviation value from the average score can be calculated for each individual score.

In Indiana, the historical trend is to establish a new state-defined passing score each time there is a change in the state test or a change in the manner the test is administered. In nearly every instance, the new state-defined passing score is a score associated with a greater standard deviation value, resulting in the state labeling more children as failures.

Despite a lower percentage of students achieving a passing score, our students continue to demonstrate progress toward becoming leading members of our community.

For example, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, another government-mandated standardized test, signify continued progress on student achievement. On the most recent NAEP, Indiana's fourth graders earned the third-highest mathematics scores and tied for eighth among all states in reading. Indiana's eighth graders tied for sixth in reading and tied for ninth in mathematics.

All of Indiana's most recent reading and math scores, for both fourth and eighth graders, were significantly higher than the national average.

Compared to previous administrations of NAEP, Indiana's eighth grade reading scores are significantly greater and fourth grade reading scores are about the same.

In mathematics, Indiana's previous scores were similar to the most recent scores for both fourth and eighth graders.

NAEP results do not indicate a lack of performance by our students, our teachers or our schools.

We believe each child we are blessed to serve is uniquely talented. A few of our children's unique talents are measured by standardized tests; the vast majority are not. Wasting time and financial resources each year to perpetuate the fallacy of standardizing children needs to stop. We need to reinvest these resources into developing the unique talents and nurturing the creativity of our state's children.

Children do not respond identically to instructional activities, nor do they learn at linear rates.

They are complex beings influenced by their interests, experiences, surroundings and by the context of the micro and macro communities in which they develop.

For most, the formal process of building an academic foundation is a 13-year journey.

Life after high school requires us to adapt to changing family needs, interests, technologies, economic conditions, and local and global events by engaging in additional formal and informal educational opportunities.

In other words, the needs of learners evolve and change over time.

Great educators recognize the changing and varying needs of children and adjust their methods accordingly. Great educators do not allow standardized tests to dictate the needs of children, nor do they allow children to be standardized.

If you concur and believe we need to reinvest time and resources into developing the talents of each child, we need your help.

To stop perpetuating the fallacy of state-mandated testing, we need your help.

We need your help in demanding that policymakers reduce and deemphasize state-mandated testing. We need your help in demanding that policymakers refocus on investing in the development of the many unique talents possessed by each child.

To learn more about how you can influence state education policy, plan to attend coming events intended to increase our community's knowledge of education policy.

Chris Himsel is superintendent of Northwest Allen County Schools.

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