We need a new Indiana test that truly helps our children advance

By Cheryl Kirk

For years in Indiana, we were told the ISTEP standardized test was the standard and now they say never mind, not really, not so much. We now know that the old ISTEP was not rigorous enough for college and career readiness, but now with a higher bar, so many schools could not meet those standards.

The 2015 ISTEP results showed that some Indiana schools, especially in the urban neighborhoods where some schools had fewer than 10 percent of students passing the test, are just not preparing its children and the community for success. 

With No Child Left Behind expired, and the new more flexible federal law not taking effect until 2017, Indiana is looking to scrap the annual test. I hope the state moves to a better test -- maybe a shorter test given a few times a year so we could measure where students start the year and how much they’ve learned during the school year. As parents we need a test that will allow teachers and schools to adjust lesson plans and give resources to the children who are starting the school year below the mark. 

If a child starts third grade at a first grade reading level and finishes at a second grade reading level that is solid progress, but they still have quite a way to go. Unfortunately, not all standardized tests factor in that progress. Although this child is not yet reading on grade level, great strides have been made so both the educators and child should get credit for the progress. 

The timing of ISTEP also makes it impossible for teachers to offer children help in the areas where they’re struggling. With less than a month left in the school year, we still don't have the 2016 results back. That means any children not meeting the benchmark will start the school year behind and will face with the challenge of trying to learn what they missed last year. Learning that new material may be a challenge depending on how much remediation is needed, and it keeps them from moving ahead in their new grade. 

I do believe that we need to measure children's progress and make sure we as a state are not falling below the mark, as we are now in too many of Indiana’s urban school districts. But one big test at the end of the school year doesn't allow schools to give resources to the children who need them. 

The ISTEP was administered for many years with Indianapolis Public Schools posting low passing rates for several years. My hope is that any new assessment will focus not only on evaluation but growth and concrete ideas for improvement. 

Many elementary schools give children an assessment in relevant subjects at least three times a year, which allows them to adjust that child's learning plan. This could be a model for state testing that is less stressful for all involved. 

While our legislators are deciding how best to measure school performance I hope they remember all of this is not just to rank schools by grade level — it’s to ensure our children are ready for academic success.

The goal is to prepare college-and-career-ready young adults who will one day be the residents, business owners, and lawmakers of Indiana.