ISTEP is dead, but what’s next?


And they wonder why it’s getting tougher to find good teachers…

As expected, Gov. Mike Pence has cried, “Uncle!” and signed a bill repealing Indiana’s annual exercise in child sacrifice, otherwise known as ISTEP.

Indiana has been trying to get standardized schools testing right for at least ten years. The state has rolled out three shades of ISTEP during that span without success. If Indiana’s supposed educational “experts” had been students, they’d be in detention for this performance. And if they’d been teachers, none of them would have seen a raise in pay.

There’s been a marked lack of humility on the part of Indiana’s leadership class when it comes to education. The sad fact of the matter is that complaining about public schooling in this state is a good way for our movers and shakers to seem brighter than they really are.

It’s almost like a kind of sport: Whenever Mr. Or Ms. Elected Official, Business Tycoon, or Academic Genius is asked to offer their deep thoughts about what Indiana needs to get to the next level, they are bound to assume a thoughtful air and say that getting our education act together is the single most important thing we can do.

Then they’ll say something like, “We owe it to our kids.”

The maddening thing, of course, is that they are correct about this. Indiana has a cultural disposition to short-change education going back generations. This used to be a place where you could drop out of school and still make a decent living working in a manufacturing plant, or on a family farm. Your friends would wonder why you stayed in school when you could be making good money on an assembly line.

And so while it’s easy now to pay lip service to the importance of education, a tradition that truly appreciates the value of good schooling is still less than bone deep in many Indiana communities.

But we can see that it’s important. We can see we’re falling short. Our business leaders say so.

Somebody must be to blame.

As it happens, Indiana is also a state that strongly favors a self-reliant brand of Republican politics antagonistic toward labor unions. Since public school teachers are unionized, and their union tends to support Democratic candidates, pinning the blame for lackluster student performance on teachers amounts to an irresistible twofer for Republicans. Improving the state’s educational system is inextricably tied to gaining political advantage.

Indiana’s leadership class may not be able to get their heads around what constitutes a quality education, but the sharp practice of political advantage is practically second nature to them. The ISTEP test, in its various bungled iterations, has been used as a club to beat teachers with, a way of undermining professionalism in the classroom in the name of accountability.

“We are going to have accountability in our testing,” said Gov. Pence as he repealed ISTEP. “But we are going to find a better way.”

Naturally, he added that “we” would “look to our teachers.” But so long as testing serves as little more than a teacher union-busting tool, who is going to want that job? 


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