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April 11, 2014

Putting tests to the test

Teachers, parents debate how much to assess students

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana education officials are trying to find a balance between preparing students for a new statewide test and overloading them with assessments as Indiana moves forward as the first state to drop the Common Core education standards.

State Board of Education members on Wednesday canceled a May transitional assessment to prepare students for a full-blown pilot next spring, because of worries that too many tests could be overwhelming and unnecessary during the realignment to new standards.

Students already will be taking at least two tests next spring because of new education standards set to replace the national guidelines in the Common Core. Indiana became the first state to drop those standards this March.

Only ISTEP, which currently is in place, will be used to gauge progress and evaluate teachers in spring 2015. Students and teachers will have next school year to prepare and adjust to the pilot test for the new standards.

The Department of Education planned to use the CoreLink test to expose students to what could lie ahead in the full-blown pilot assessment, but the plan prompted criticism from some board members who say the test is one too many for students.

The board eventually pushed off a decision on whether to delay the test until September and instead voted to postpone it indefinitely.

Member Brad Oliver said upcoming discussions during the standards revision process on how many assessments students should take will help set precedent for the culture of testing in the state.

“We’re seeing a culture of a lot of schools centered on testing and focusing on compliance rather than learning,” he said. “We’ve really got to get the culture back on learning, ability and skills.”

But some parents and superintendents say more-frequent testing could help teachers and ensure students do their best on assessments.

Indiana State Teachers Association Vice President Keith Gambill said many educators are against too much testing, but that the answer could be shorter tests gauging progress throughout the year and not simply fewer tests.

“That provides teachers and schools with diagnostics as they progress through the year as to where students’ weaknesses are if any are falling behind,” he said.

Lafayette School Corp. Assistant Superintendent John Layton said area schools have their own tests they give throughout the year to break up assessment of state standards and give teachers a better idea of what students need help with as the school year progresses.

Parent Jenny Mosier, of Fishers, Ind., said she wants more of students’ time to be spent learning and not filling in bubbles, but she also backs giving more tests throughout the year that don’t tie qualification for remedial classes, for example, with one final exam. She said if a student is having a bad day during the assessment, their test results might not accurately show what they’ve learned.

“They’re basing this follow-up on one test at this one time,” Mosier said. “That’s a not clear picture.”

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