testing

Football (or American football to some) can be a confusing sport for people who regularly do not follow it.

I once watched a game with an educator from England, and he stared blankly at the field. In the waning minutes of the game, he looked at me and said, “I haven’t the foggiest clue what is going on, and for the life of me I cannot figure out the meaning of this game. I only know to look at the scoreboard to see which team has a higher score; the team with the most points is winning, correct?”

Now, imagine the situation for our visitor from England with one change: turn off the lights to the scoreboard. Without this one reference point, our friend from across the ocean would have had no clue as to which team was winning.

This is how many schools and teachers feel when it comes to the current state of affairs in Indiana as it relates to standardized tests, student performance, and accountability.

With teachers, administrators, students, and parents actively involved in this “contest,” one must wonder how in the world anyone can determine what defines success or have any clue as to the likely outcome? This is the crux of the broken system being used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools across Indiana.

Here are a few examples:

The goals of the game have changed. Imagine, if the ultimate goal of the football game was to gain the most passing yards, rather than to score the most points. The strategy to win the game would quickly change. In Indiana, the standards (our goals) have been modified more than once in the last decade. The current change from Common Core Standards to “Indiana’s College and Career Ready Standards” provided new state standards that were quickly revealed in summer 2014, but were expected to be implemented by Indiana’s schools with only a few weeks’ notice for the 2014-2015 school year.

Schools and teachers need clarification by State leaders: Is the goal to compare students to learned standards or simply to rank students against one another by comparing scores?

The rules of the game have changed. Continuing our football analogy… imagine if the field goal posts were narrowed in width by three yards, the posts were moved 10 yards back, and the posts were moved another 10 yards to the right or to the left.

While teams would be playing by the same new standards, their success would be evaluated using placement rules for goal posts that were only recently announced. Indiana lawmakers and members of the State Board of Education not only changed the standards being assessed, but also changed many rules associated with the assessment as well, including the design of the test, the length of the test, and much, much more. These changes were done quickly and with little warning to Indiana’s teachers and students.

The evaluation of the game has changed. Think back to our football game and imagine that only 60 percent of the field goals kicked would count for three points. If more than 60 percent of the field goals were made, only those kicked the farthest distance would count for three points. Currently, teachers are teaching the standards that they have been told will be assessed. However, the measurement (cut score) used for counting a student as a “pass” keeps changing.

Cut scores are not decided prior to the tests being administered based on what a student is expected to know; rather, cut scores to determine passing are set after scores are known to guarantee that only 60 percent of students “pass.” Imagine playing in a football game where the scoring determination is decided after the contest is played!

The impact of the game has changed. One final comparison to football. What if we changed the criteria for how a winner was decided in a football game each new school year? Since 2011 Indiana legislators have been pushing through a series of “reforms.” These reforms take faulty tests and data and use them to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers.

Instead of fine tuning the tests before using them to evaluate teachers, the State of Indiana legislators required that the scores immediately count as a “significant” factor in teachers’ evaluations. The rush to reform education, including teacher evaluations, through high-stakes testing has been a “tragedy in the making” by not getting the product and the metrics right first.

Much like the British bloke struggling to comprehend the meaning and mechanics of American football, many Hoosiers find themselves completely confused over Indiana’s educational reforms. However, this is not a game! The future of public education, the future of student learning, the future of teacher roles and responsibilities, and so much more are at stake in Indiana.

The lack of clarity and transparency in the State’s accountability and testing practices, coupled with the discriminatory manner in which “winners” and “losers” are being determined, are absolutely irresponsible and misguided. One can only hope that the recent conversations on this topic will encourage our State leaders to work with Hoosier educators, students, and parents to hit a reset button while we use common sense to fix our broken evaluation system for the benefit of all those involved.

If not, at least turn off the lights to the scoreboard so we don’t have to try to make sense of scores, grades, and results that few can understand and even fewer can explain.