Back in September, I drove up and down the state delivering more than 100 yard signs to cities from Portage and Anderson to Charlestown and Newburgh. People (my husband) thought I was insane. I drove all by myself in peace and quiet (we have two young kids), away from the internet and in between projects for the two jobs I have (I’m living the American dream). I binged on podcasts and listened to stand-up comedy, uncensored, because I could. I stopped at local food joints as well—from Big Ben’s BBQ in Jeffersonville to Henze’s bakery in Valparaiso. I also sat at many railroad crossings. I think Griffith and Porter tie for two of the largest crossings I recall encountering in Indiana. All in all, this trip doesn’t sound too insane to a 40-something mom.
Some of you had amazing fall décor—big word planks (with messages like “Welcome Fall”), sitting next to your front doors, are popular all over Indiana. Others were still holding onto summer and had your green thumb on full display in your front yards and decks.
But, let me get to the point: what I learned from this road trip.
In the end, what I learned is simple, obvious, and contrary to the messages coming out of the statehouse: We who support public education come from all walks of life. Public education is the great equalizer. Public schools are the hearts of our communities and need qualified staff and teachers to ensure proper operation. Underfunding public education makes no sense. The current funding course the state is on for the sake of “choice” could more aptly be termed "austerity” and is not sustainable. If it were, we would not have referendums to help pay for teachers. It is imperative to pay attention. Let's focus on getting the right people into office to ensure that ALL Hoosier children will have access to an equitable education offered by accountable schools filled with well-trained, well-paid teachers and support staff.
Tomorrow and every election day, be sure to vote for public education.
—Keri Miksza, vice chair of Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County
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
This guest post is by author, educator, and consultant Ray Golarz. For almost 20 years, Dr. Golarz directed work with at-risk children and gangs near Chicago. In addition, he did extensive work with juvenile courts, probation offices, and police departments.
The tragedy of this story is that it is the story of thousands and thousands of hardworking Americans.
Stan and Mary were married in 1953. In 1956, Stan returned home from the Korean War and got a job working on the Lake Erie docks in Cleveland. Soon Mary had their first child. A house became available in a modest neighborhood. With financial help of family they bought it. The house had a basement, kitchen, dining room, a small den, one bathroom and four bedrooms upstairs.
For the first five years after purchasing the house, they bought only the essentials. With any money left over they paid back their relatives.
Ultimately, they had five children who all attended the school down the street — Roosevelt Elementary. It was a school where parents and teachers worked together. Children understood that violating standards would not be tolerated.
Over the years Stan slowly improved their house. A second bathroom was added and in 1963 Stan began remodeling the kitchen, giving Mary a double sink, a window to look out of over her backyard and a larger area for the kitchen table. He finished the kitchen in 1965. In addition, he rewired the basement, built bookshelves in the den and put in a two-car garage. With friends and relatives, Stan laid a concrete driveway on the side of the house back to the garage. By the time he retired, there wasn’t much that hadn’t been rebuilt, repaired or touched up.
After a long, good life together raising their family in that comfortable home, Mary passed away. Stan, shortly thereafter, began getting confused, fell badly a couple of times and then went to live several miles away with a daughter and her husband.
Stan and Mary hadn’t saved a lot. They had spent their money frugally while raising their family. Stan had done most of the home improvements. Mary had cooked, cleaned and helped maintain the condition of their home while she tutored, nursed and gave individualized attention to a growing and maturing family.
Stan’s only real asset was the house, and now the time had come to sell it. He had kept it in good shape, and its reasonable sale would give to each of his children a small inheritance. So Stan arranged a meeting at the house with a real estate agent.
“Sir, I know the house is in great shape and immaculate but the school down the street has just been given a grade of ‘F’ by the state. So, finding a family willing to buy here will be immensely difficult. You may need to come down at least $40,000 or maybe more if you want to sell.” Stan said nothing. He just dropped his head then walked slowly to the sink and looked out of the window that Mary loved so much.
It was now time to say goodbye to the house and have his daughter drive him back to her home. They stopped for a red light, and from the rear seat of the car he looked out. He could see after-school children laughing and horse-playing as the left Betty J’s corner store, chewing their penny candy on their way home, full of hope and joy as his kids and their friends had done so often years ago. Stan slowly turned from the window and looked forward. He smiled. Nothing of real importance had really changed in the neighborhood.
Maybe someday someone would explain to him exactly what an “F” school was and why it meant that he now practically had to give his house away.
Indiana’s new standardized test, ILEARN, may be new and even “computer adaptive,” but it has at least one thing in common with its predecessor ISTEP+. Scores on ILEARN correspond to socioeconomic status. Put simply: The poorer the families served by your school, the poorer your school will perform on the test. Shocking, we know.
Some news reports about the test talk just about the overall low scores. Others go skin deep by comparing the average scores of schools and districts. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that this test—despite its price tag of $45 million—delivers more of the same.
For example, take the 20 schools with the highest ILEARN averages, clustered in the upper left of the following graph. Minus two outliers (one of which had only 30 students take the test), the top-performing schools had 0 to 25% of students qualifying for free lunch, and in half of those schools, fewer than 5% qualified for free lunch. The free lunch rate is an indicator of the poverty level of the population served by a school; across Indiana, the average free lunch rate is 40%. Two of these top-scoring schools—both religious schools that received vouchers—had 0% of students qualify for free lunch.
When you look at schools in Monroe County—public, charter, and private—you will see a textbook-worthy example of statistical correlation.
And to hint back at our voucher blog post, here are the ILEARN averages of schools in the Archdiocese of Evansville presented against those of the local public school district, Evansville-Vanderburgh. Look at this graph and ask yourself if this merited the headline, “EVSC below state ILEARN average while Warrick, Catholic schools above.”
We’ve combined the ILEARN data with free lunch data for schools across Indiana here (the source for both is the IDOE; ILEARN was administered to grades 3-8 so only those schools are included). This is the resulting scatterplot:
We invite you to explore this data and share what you learn with the editor and education reporter of your local paper—if you are lucky enough to have a local paper—and with your state senator and representative.
Maybe next year, instead of headlines like, “X schools score well, Y schools score badly,” we'll see headlines like “ILEARN scores reflect wealth and poverty—again.” (See, for instance, this coverage in Ohio in 2017.)
Is the important question “How can we improve schools' ILEARN scores?”
Or do we need an array of questions? Such as:
Now those might just lead to an actual accountability system.
–Keri Miksza and Jenny Robinson
P.S. For those who would like the statistical nitty gritty, Pete Miksza has explained the following to us:
Pearson correlation coefficient r = -.70. There is a strong negative (e.g., inverse) relationship between free lunch qualification and ILEARN proficiency. Those schools that have the most free lunch students also have the lowest ILEARN proficiency rates, and vice versa.
On average, schools experience a .70 percentage point drop in proficiency with each percentage point increase in free lunch qualification. Each 5% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 3.5 point decrease in proficiency. Each 10% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 7 point decrease in proficiency. Etc.
Pearson correlation coefficient r = -.91. There is an extremely strong negative (e.g., inverse) relationship between free lunch qualification and ILEARN proficiency. Those schools that have the most free lunch students also have the lowest ILEARN proficiency rates, and vice versa.
On average, schools experience a .65 percentage point drop in proficiency with each percentage point increase in free lunch qualification. Each 5% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 3.25 point decrease in proficiency. Each 10% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 6.5 point decrease in proficiency. Etc.
The Pearson correlation coefficient r = -.74. There is a strong negative (e.g., inverse) relationship between free lunch qualification and ILEARN proficiency. Those schools that have the most free lunch students also have the lowest ILEARN proficiency rates, and vice versa.
On average, schools experience a .56 percentage point drop in proficiency with each percentage point increase in free lunch qualification. Each 5% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 2.5 point decrease in proficiency. Each 10% increase in free lunch qualifications is associated with an approximately 5 point decrease in proficiency.