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EDITORIAL

Let's go our own way, but make sure it's the right way

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 12:01 am

We can't allow a single test to become be-all and end-all of education.

Good news on the education front: Gov. Mike Pence has announced that Indiana is withdrawing from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a multistate consortium charged with implementing the Common Core set of national education standards. PARCC is also scheduled to begin administering a standardized test based on those standards beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.

Common Core is a major step on the way to the nationalizing of education, which would all but destroy the tradition of local control. And Indiana’s standards were already more rigorous than the ones being proposed, so the state would get no gains to offset the loss. Pence’s better idea is to keep focusing on the state’s own ISTEP testing “to make independent, fiscally responsible decisions regarding standards and assessments for the good of all the people of Indiana.”

At the same time, however, the state must review its use of testing to make sure its policies are rational and that tests measure what they’re supposed to and are used the right way, to improve student performance. There were a couple of other education news items this week that weren’t quite as reassuring:

Results were released by the outside group charged with studying the computer “glitches” that caused interruptions in ISTEP+ testing for 180,000 students. The group’s report says there is “considerable evidence that the interruptions had no negative impact on student scores for the vast majority of students.”

Emails unearthed by The Associated Press show that then-Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and his staff scrambled to change the grade of a charter school founded by an influential Republican donor after it was learned the school was getting a C on the state’s A-F grading system.

We hope the ISTEP’s clean bill of health is genuine; there is a danger of outside evaluators telling those who hired them what they want to hear. And whether Bennett acted improperly to aid a political benefactor will have to be argued out; it wouldn’t be the first time a public official let a friend go around the rules, and it won’t be the last.

What both incidents show is the need to be cautious in the use of tests. No single test should be the be-all and end-all that determines the success of students, the future of schools and the livelihoods of educators. Even when everything goes exactly as it is supposed to, the stakes become too high, and the resulting behavior distorts the educational mission. And as we’ve seen this week, things do not always go exactly as planned.