By David McGuire
During a June session for my Teach Plus Policy Fellowship we had the honor and privilege to have as our speaker Rep. Robert Behning, Chairman of the Indiana House Education Committee. Rep. Behning provided us with the latest news around state tests, accountability, and teacher effectiveness. He also reminded us how important our voices are as teachers in shaping policy and legislation. But the one thing he said that really stuck with me was a recommendation to move ISTEP to the end of the year.
As a teacher I have my complaints about ISTEP just like the others do, but that was one thing I never really thought about. Why do we take ISTEP in the spring and then have the entire rest of the year to fill time?
As a middle school teacher one of my responsibilities is to prepare my students for the ISEP exam, as best as I can and to the best of their learning abilities. Most schools in Indiana get out of school the last week of May or the first week in June, but the ISTEP exam is taken in March and again in the first week of May. That leaves schools with a month until school is out. That poses many potential problems with schools, teachers, and students.
So, why not have it the last two weeks of school to allow teachers more time to teach? That way they do not feel crunched for time to get all the material covered. Makes perfect sense to me as I know I feel a little crammed towards the end of the year. I knew the test was coming up soon, but I was trying to help my students remember lessons that they may have forgotten over Spring Break.
Second, how are schools supposed to fill the final few weeks of the school year? I know that was a tough thing for me at my school because my students checked out once ISTEP was over. We were all drained from a long school year. Attendance and class participation became an issue, because to the students ISTEP symbolized the end of school and the beginning of summer. But we still had three and half weeks remaining in the year, and it was my job to keep the students engaged and learning.
Now that it is official that ISTEP will be scrapped as the state exam here in Indiana, I do think Rep. Behning made a good point about making our next state test work better for teachers and students.
Maybe we should look into moving the test towards the end of May to give teachers more time to teach, give students a full school year to prepare, and not ask schools to fill their last month of school with non-essential material that causes students to blow off school or act up in class because they are bored.