The predictions were, of course, correct. Nearly all of Indiana schools which used ISTEP to assess students saw a drop in their scores.
Democrats and Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon to #pauseaccountability. Bills are before both houses in the Indiana General Assembly which would allow school systems to ignore 2015 ISTEP scores when evaluating teachers, and would allow the state to ignore 2015 ISTEP scores when grading schools and school districts.
The ISTEP won't be going away, however, and it doesn't matter if the state improves the test. It doesn't matter if teachers learn how better to teach to the test. It doesn't matter because, unless the ISTEP is validated for use as a tool to evaluate teachers and schools, using the test in that manner is inappropriate and invalid.
WHY USE ISTEP FOR TEACHER AND SCHOOL EVALUATION?
Standardized tests yield simple numbers to explain a complicated process. Look at the list of schools and their test scores. All you see are the percentage of students who passed. Schools are given minimal information about the difficulties students have in various areas of the test and that information is often too little and too late (in the current situation, nearly a year later) to actually help students learn content related to the state standards. [Are the state standards all that schools should be responsible for? Is there nothing more to an educated citizenry than what's in the standards? Should schools, teachers, and students be held accountable for only the standards and nothing else?]
The state uses those numbers to grade teachers and schools. A school's or school system's grade of A, B, C, D or F is based on the percentage of students passing the test and improving their scores. Some students score lower on standardized achievement tests due to the effects of poverty while out of school factors contribute more to a student's score on a test than does the classroom teacher.
Yet the state still insists on using student achievement test scores to evaluate the school's performance. [Since the correlation between achievement tests scores and poverty is so strong perhaps we ought to use student achievement test scores to evaluate government officials' effectiveness at improving the economy.]
THE MISUSE OF TESTS
The ISTEP has never been validated as a tool to evaluate teachers. In a process which is apparently meant to punish teachers who work with hard to educate students (students in poverty, students for whom English is a second language, and students with learning differences), the state continues to insist on using test scores as part of teacher evaluations despite the lack of validity.
THE PAYOFF – PRIVATIZATION
Misusing test scores for evaluating schools creates more privatization and "turnaround" schools. The more public schools that are graded F, the more public schools can be turned over to charter operators and the more students can be enticed to leave the public schools for parochial and private schools with vouchers. The connection between privatization and political donors is clear – money is now the guiding force in our state's education system, not the needs of students.
Despite the fact that Indiana's students outperform the national average on the NAEP, the legislature and the government refuse to admit that our public schools are working.
The state has an obligation to fully fund public education. It has an obligation to help public schools succeed, not replace them with privately run charter schools. It has an obligation to help public schools filled with students who struggle, not entice students to leave the public schools.
Evaluating teachers and schools with student achievement test scores is invalid and it needs to end.