This guest post is by Joan and Phil Harris, authors of The Myths of Standardized Tests, longtime ICPE members, and former ICPE–Monroe County board members.
Welcome to a new school year, and with it another assessment and yet another waste of Hoosier tax money and student and teacher time. Indiana’s constantly changing assessments make it impossible for any long term comparisons, as our state superintendent has acknowledged. What’s more, the information about how the test was developed is not available to the general public and apparently not to the Department of Education personnel either.
The problems that have recently been identified with the new ILEARN are imbedded in the details of the test item development and the number that was chosen to define passing scores. There are generally accepted standards for test development and test use, and they apparently have not been addressed in the preparation of Indiana’s ILEARN. The Department of Education seems not to have provided the required oversight of the development process.
MCCSC Superintendent Judith DeMuth and other Indiana district superintends are correct in publicly criticizing the state assessment. But this public criticism needs to go further, since ILEARN involves a lot of teacher and student time without providing any useful information for either teachers or students.
However, the pause that the state has invoked for last spring’s test needs to be broadened to cover the entire state assessment plan, so that the Department of Education and state legislators do not continue to use the test data for purposes for which the test was not created. The American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Council on Testing and Measurement have adopted testing standards, which are easily located online but are in no way visible in the current draft of the ILEARN test. The public outcry over this large expenditure for a testing program that has no evidence of meeting the development standards should be loud and continuous. The Department of Education has no authority to require the state’s school districts to administer an assessment tool that has not been appropriately validated. This lack of oversight has been apparent for many years, and the public needs to be aware that millions of dollars of state tax revenue have been and continue to be spent for seriously flawed products.
All Hoosiers need to have a conversation about how to develop meaningful learning measures of what we expect our students to know and be able to do. These better assessment tools may not be the kind of tools that the state says it needs to compare districts, but that comparative information is not particularly useful as the students in each district across Indiana are very different. Children in our public schools are not products that are identical and so should not be compared. Classroom teachers are in a much better position to monitor and appraise the work of students and to report on the level of performance with regard to our state content objectives and standards.
You wouldn’t want to purchase a medical prescription that hadn’t met safety standards set by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Nor should Indiana buy a test that hasn’t been appropriately vetted by generally accepted test development and use standards.
—Phil and Joan Harris