More needed to clean up public education mess

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

The Indiana Senate last week approved a measure that could ultimately lead lawmakers to ditch ISTEP, the statewide education assessment tool used to measure the achievement of more than 400,000 students statewide. It’s about time.

“I think we need to put our ISTEP in our review mirror as soon as we can,” GOP Senate leader David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said. “The test is damaged goods in my eyes and a lot of other peoples’ eyes and we need to move on from it.”

Truer words were never spoken. It would take far too much space to list all that was wrong with the test, which was thrown together and enacted in haste after lawmakers dropped national Common Core math and English standards. Students across the state bombed on the test, with scores dropping roughly 20 percent when compared to the previous year.

The measure that passed the Senate on a 38-10 vote calls for creation of a 22-member panel to “study the alternatives to the ISTEP” and make recommendations for replacing the test. It differs from a House version, which calls for rescoring the 2015 test.

Because the Senate substantially changed the bill, it must now go back to the House for approval. Along the way, we hope some things get added besides a look at replacing ISTEP, with legislators taking to heart something said by Gov. Mike Pence:

“Now is an ideal time to reconsider the ISTEP test and take a step back to look for ways we can do testing better. We test too much in Indiana and we ought to let our teachers teach.”

The emphasis on testing came from a laudable reform movement aimed at greater accountability for teachers, schools and entire school systems. But the tests became such high-stakes endeavors that they now seem make-or-break exercises for students. We seem to have forgotten that the primary purpose of testing is to improve student performance.

The panel created by the legislature needs to do much more than just find a sensible, economical replacement for ISTEP. It must also determine what part testing should play in a well-thought-out, comprehensive approach to accountability.

We have lost our way on public education in Indiana. It is time to slow down, take a breath and figure out where to go from here. Just replacing one test isn’t going to cut it.