Posted in Darling-Hammond, IREAD-3, ISTEP, Testing

Time for The Test! What Can One Teacher Do?

It’s (almost) Spring. Time for baseball, longer days, and, of course…

Right now most grade 3 through grade 8 students here in Indiana are taking ISTEP+…or more correctly, ISTEP+ Part 1. ISTEP+ Part 2 is given in April, less than a month after Part 1. At least, that’s how it is for most students. Third graders aren’t quite as lucky.

Indiana is a member of the “Learn or be Punished” club, so third graders also get to take the high-stakes IREAD-3. IREAD-3 is an additional reading test (yes, reading is also tested on the ISTEP+ Part 1 and Part 2). IREAD-3 immediately follows ISTEP+ Part 1 and their scores on IREAD-3 determine if they get promoted to fourth grade for the next school year. [See Research on Retention in Grade for why this is a terrible idea.]

Tenth graders take ISTEP+, too. Secondary students also take ECAs (End of Course Assessments).

There are other tests from the state as well…the alternate assessment, ISTAR…the Kindergarten readiness test, ISTAR-KR…the English proficiency, WIDA….ACCUPLACER. Next year ISTEP+ will be replaced with ILEARN, which promises to be somewhat different, but also somewhat the same.


…on tests in Indiana? We’ve spent $300 million since 2002 and $38 million for the last two years of ISTEP+ alone. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction hopes to spend $26.3 million for the next two years. Such a bargain!

But the cost of testing is much greater than just the cost of the test booklets. Personnel costs…the loss of instructional time…the cost of paying teachers, administrators and others to fiddle around with testing chores instead of actually working with students…and the cost in emotional and physical stress related to the tests.

The money (and time) we have wasted could surely have been put to better use in classrooms…lowering class sizes perhaps with an additional 200 teachers statewide…updated technology…textbooks…classroom sets of books…building repairs…science equipment. Perhaps that money could have helped the people of Muncie and Gary retain their democratic right to elected school boards.

If you include the millions of dollars dumped into private pockets through charters and vouchers we would have enough to build a pretty solid system of common schools in Indiana.


What are we doing with all those different test scores? Test scores are used to (among other things)…

  • evaluate teachers
  • determine grade placement for children (IREAD-3)
  • rank and grade schools
  • rank school systems

In Rise Above the Mark, Linda Darling Hammond said,

The problem we have with testing in this country today is that, number 1, we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2, we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.

Standardized tests are developed to determine how much students know about the tested material. They are not made to evaluate teachers, schools, and school systems. Using them inappropriately is invalid and a misuse of the test.

The entire country misuses and overuses tests…and we do it with the blessing of the U.S. Education Department and all 50 state Departments of Education at a cost of nearly $2 billion (The last study I could find was done in 2012, and the cost, at that time, was $1.7 billion. I think I’m safe in assuming that it’s more than that now).

[UPDATE: As I was getting ready to post this, I saw this video from NPE. It’s worth your time. Watch it…


Don’t tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test…You didn’t devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do.Candidate Barack Obama, 2007

Testing is not teaching and a child (or a school/state/nation) is more than a test score.

So what can one teacher do?

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re administering tests this month — or at any time during the school year.

1. You have already prepared them as much as you can. No matter what you do you can’t (legally) add more to their knowledge once a testing session begins.

2. Standardized tests measure knowledge, but you have provided your students with growth opportunities, experiences and skills which aren’t (and can’t be) tested such as (but not limited to):

creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, empathy, self-awareness, self-discipline, leadership, civic-mindedness, courage, compassion, resourcefulness, a sense of beauty, a sense of wonder, honesty, integrity

3. Understand that the increased importance of standardized tests — the fact that they are used to rate schools and teachers, as well as measure student knowledge accumulation — is based on invalid assumptions. As a professional your job is to teach your students. If knowledge were all that were important in education then an understanding of child development, pedagogy, and psychology wouldn’t be necessary to teach (and yes, I know, there are people in the state who actually believe that). We know that’s not true. We know that one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is the relationship between teacher and child. We know that well trained, caring teachers are better educators than computers.

4. People who make rules and laws about teaching, from legislators to billionaires to presidents, don’t understand the teaching and learning process. For most of them, their understanding of teaching comes from the point of view of a learner.

They don’t understand what it means to be a teacher in a classroom.

They don’t know the planning that takes place before the first day of school. They don’t understand the thought behind creating an entire year’s worth of lesson plans. They don’t know the emotional responses a teacher feels when a class leaves her care at the end of a school year. They don’t know all the time and effort spent preparing at night, on weekends, and during “vacations.”

They have never helped a child decide to remain in school only to lose him to a drive-by shooting. They have never gotten a letter from a former student thanking them for supporting her during a family crisis. They have never tried to explain to a class of Kindergartners why their classmate who had cancer is not coming back. They have never felt the joy of watching a student who they helped all year long walk across the stage to accept a diploma.

State legislators who come from jobs as attorneys, florists, or auctioneers don’t know what preparing for a class — or half a dozen classes — of students, day after day, for 180 days, is like. They have an image of what a classroom teacher does based on their childhood and youthful memories, but they don’t know how it really works.

Understand that. Remember that you are much more valuable to your students than what is reflected on “the test.”

5. Do what you have to do to survive in today’s classroom. Make sure your students are, to the extent that you are able, ready to take “the test.” Then, let it go and return to being the best teacher you can be. Keep in mind that the most important thing you will do for your students is to be a person they can respect, learn from, look up to, emulate, and care about.

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. — Carl Jung

Posted in A-F Grading, Evaluations, IREAD-3, ISTEP, retention, Testing, vouchers

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Test – 2017

ISTEP is still doing damage to Indiana students, teachers, and schools. The promise to end the mess that is the State of Indiana’s testing program was just political deception in order to assuage voters during the last election cycle. The election is over and we have elected the same folks who have been dumping education “reform” policies on the children of Indiana for the last dozen years. They have grown the importance of ISTEP into a bludgeon to punish low income children, their teachers, and their schools. The pretense of the test being a tool to analyze children’s progress has all but disappeared.

Public outcry against the test inspired former Governor Pence to form a team to find an alternative, but it was led by political appointees and some educators on the panel had their voices overruled by the sound of cash clinking into test-makers’ (aka political donors) wallets. Others gave up, apparently thinking, “This is the best we’ll get.”

Nevertheless, the recommendations of the panel were for a shorter test with quicker turnaround. The recommendations also called for a two year window to plan for the changes…in the meantime, the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad test continues.

ISTEP will involve too many hours of student instructional time – twice during the school year (thrice for third graders who are also subject to being punished by IREAD-3 for not learning quickly enough). ISTEP will still be responsible for teacher evaluations and A-F school grades even though it was designed only to evaluate student knowledge. So much for any rules of testing which say that tests should only be used to evaluate what they were designed to evaluate – in this case student achievement.

Maybe we ought to try education policies which have actually been shown to be effective. Let’s do this instead…

  • End the A-F Grading system for schools. A letter grade does not reflect the climate or quality of a school.
  • Stop using tests to evaluate teachers. There are other, better professional evaluation tools out there (see this report, by Linda Darling-Hammond, et al.)
  • End IREAD-3 and any student evaluation process by which students are retained in grade. Retention doesn’t work. Intensive early intervention does. See here, here, and here.
  • If standardized tests must be used, use those tests which can return student achievement information in a timely manner so teachers can use the information in their instruction.
  • Better yet, don’t use standardized tests at all. With the millions of dollars saved by not purchasing standardized tests, provide early intervention funds to schools with significant numbers of at-risk students.
  • Your suggestion here: __________
Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, IREAD-3, reading, reform, retention, Teaching Career, Testing

2016 Medley #21

Labels, Charters, Reform, Testing, Grades, Teacher Quality, Chalkbeat


This ed-reform trend is supposed to motivate students. Instead, it shames them.

I should begin the introduction to this article by saying that I have never seen the data walls described. I retired in 2010 and the school I worked at, and the schools I have volunteered in since then, do not list student names and test scores in public. I would agree with the author of this piece that listing students’ names and test scores publicly violates the privacy of the students.

Apparently, however, this disgusting practice of humiliation and shaming is “a thing” and does happen. Those who use this practice should not be allowed in a classroom or public school.

Similarly, politicians and policy makers frequently shame public schools with letter grades and labels. “Failure” is slapped on public schools filled with students who live in poverty while there is no label “for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods.” Teachers who work with the neediest students are labeled “bad teachers” while those who divert funds from public schools to corporate tax breaks, vouchers, and charter operators, receive no such condemnation.

Those who use this practice should not be allowed to make laws governing public education. We can fire them in November.

By Launa Hall, a third grade teacher in northern Virginia.

When policymakers mandate tests and buy endlessly looping practice exams to go with them, their image of education is from 30,000 feet. They see populations and sweeping strategies. From up there, it seems reasonable enough to write a list of 32 discrete standards and mandate that every 8-year-old in the state meet them. How else will we know for sure that teaching and learning are happening down there?

But if we zoom in, we see that education actually happens every weekday, amid pencils and notebooks, between an adult and a small group of youngsters she personally knows and is deeply motivated to teach. Public education has always been — and needs to be still — a patchwork of ordinary human relationships. Data walls, and the high-stakes tests that engender them, aren’t merely ineffective, they break the system at its most fundamental level. They break the connection between a teacher who cares and a kid who really needs her to care.


Op Ed: There’s No Such Thing as a “Public Charter School”

Public education advocate Ann Berlak explains why charters are really just private schools taking public tax dollars. They are not public schools.

If public schools have not always lived up to their promise then it is necessary to redouble our efforts to have them do so, not to abandon them.

An extra in this article is found in the comments.

The comments are filled with the usual ignorance claiming that American schools are failing, teachers unions are the problem, and a variety of comments reflecting sour grapes. Among the trolls, however, there are some good, thoughtful comments (on both sides), including one by Robert D. Skeels, who blogs at Schools Matter. He wrote an informative comment presenting “the legal arguments on how privately managed charter schools are not at all ‘public.'”


“Eat Your Dinner…Or Else”

The data are staring them in the face: low attendance rates among students and teachers; higher percentages of students “opting out” of state-mandated standardized tests; more teachers leaving the profession; and more parents saying they’d like the option of sending their children to charter schools.

Instead, educators from Secretary John King on down seem to be doubling down, searching for ways to penalize students who choose not to take standardized tests, their schools, and their school districts.

The ‘meal’ that School Reformers have been serving up for the past nearly 12 years of the Bush and Obama Administrations is neither delicious nor nutritious.


I call it “Learn or be punished.” It’s the mistaken plan by state after state to make eight and nine year olds who have difficulty meeting arbitrary reading standards repeat the third grade…as if repeating a grade helps students learn. HINT: It doesn’t.

Indiana makes third graders take IREAD-3. If they don’t pass they don’t go to fourth grade. Florida also punishes third graders who have difficulty learning to read. So does Ohio. So does Michigan. And Iowa…and Arizona…

And in Oklahoma it’s called the Reading Sufficiency Act.

Claudia Swisher is a retired teacher who lives in Norman, Oklahoma. Her article, Unfinished Business, from which this excerpt is taken, appeared in the August 2016 print edition of the The Oklahoma Observer. Claudia blogs at Fourth Generation Teacher.

Unfinished Business

This is my pet project. I’m a reading specialist. I know how students learn as youngsters, and how they learn as adolescents. Reading Sufficiency Act, or “Test and Flunk Third Graders” is a monumentally bad idea.

It seems to have been born in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Education Excellence. His state school superintendents, Chiefs for Change, unquestioningly accepted his theories and hunches. Our former superintendent was a Chief for Change, and enthusiastically promoted test-and-flunk.

I have been active with this issue for years. I have two granddaughters who are living through this policy. I exchanged emails with the original author, Rep. Sally Kern; and I advocated for Rep. Katie Henke’s bill that allowed teachers and parents some say-so in the promotion or retention decision. The test being used was awed, not a reading test at all, and scores do not give a reading level.

There is no research to support retaining nine-year- olds because they don’t reach an arbitrary score one day in April. Fans of RSA say all kids must read by third grade.

IF they ever walked into a third grade class, they would see every child DOES read … at his or her level. They’ve only been reading for, perhaps, four years. There are vast differences in their abilities. But they all read.

RSA must be changed: no high stakes, tests that measure reading levels, funding for remediation, support for students and families and classrooms. I am all in.

FL: Test Fetish on Trial

Parents in Florida have joined together to fight the law requiring the third grade test. Peter Greene reports.

Because that’s where we are now, folks– parent groups have to take up a collection to go to court so that third graders who passed all their classes can be promoted to fourth grade.


Do Away with Grades for Reading

Russ Walsh has a great idea. Instead of punishing children for not learning to read why don’t we remove reading from the report card altogether. Instead, he suggests a better way of reporting on a student’s progress in reading.

That better way would report to the parent on what the child knows and is able to do in reading. Simple brief answers to a few questions on a report card would do it.

  • Is the student below, at, or above expected reading level for grade/age?
  • Does the student read with appropriate fluency for grade/age?
  • Does the student read with appropriate comprehension for grade/age?
  • Does the student choose to read independently?
  • What are the student’s reading goals for the next marking period?

Notice the item on “choosing to read.” I think that it is important to communicate to parents that successful readers have both the skill and the will to read.


Economist Shows How Teachers Unions Improve Quality of Teachers

So, it turns out that strong teachers unions actually encourage better teachers!

I find that higher teacher pay gives school districts a strong incentive to be more selective in granting tenure to teachers. Districts paying high teacher salaries utilize the tenure system more efficiently as they dismiss more low-quality teachers, raising average teacher quality by setting higher standards.

Indiana flunked hardly any teachers last year

Teacher evaluations in Indiana are required by law to reflect student test scores, yet we know that out of school factors have a much larger impact on student achievement than teachers. Nevertheless, legislators can’t understand why the percentage of teachers who get poor evaluations doesn’t equal the number of students who get low test scores.

One reason there are so many “good” teachers is because many beginning teachers don’t stay long in the classroom. A large number of teachers leave the profession within their first five years (and many don’t even start their careers). The ones who leave are usually the ones who discover that they don’t like to teach, the ones who are fired early in their career, and the ones who are asked to resign because they can’t make it in the classroom.

This means that the teachers who are left are either skilled in the classroom, or are strong enough to improve when they struggle.

Unfortunately, legislators don’t understand, or don’t care, that evaluating teachers, just like evaluating student achievement, cannot be limited to a number on a standardized exam. Numbers make judgments about people so much easier – even when their inadequate or inappropriate.

For the third year in a row, barely any Indiana teachers, principals and superintendents were rated “ineffective” under the state’s fledgling evaluation system.


Chalkbeat: Our Supporters

I was struck by the disrespectful tone of the title of the article above…”Indiana flunked hardly any teachers last year.” I did some exploring on the Chalkbeat website and found that, among their supporters (funders) are the “reformers” listed below. Most of the time the articles are fairly unbiased, but I’ve noticed a “reformist” bent now and then, such as in the above title.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…
Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, Inc….
Gates Family Foundation…
The Anschutz Foundation…
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice…
The Joyce Foundation…
The Walton Family Foundation…


Posted in IREAD-3, reading, Testing

LEARN or be Punished


We’re still living in the NCLB Era…and will be until the test-and-punish methods of state and federal legislators are left behind.

Until then, punishment is the norm.

Public schools and public school systems can be punished by funding cuts, school closings, and turnarounds. Teachers can be punished by salary freezes, reduced job protections, and evaluations based on test scores. Students are punished by all of the above…plus retention in grade.

Few topics in education have been as well researched as retention in grade. The research is consistent, yet retention has been the go-to intervention when public education fails a child. It’s so entrenched in our public education psyche that when state legislators want to “guarantee success by third grade,” they do it by retaining children as punishment for not learning.


A few weeks ago, Indiana’s third graders took the IREAD-3 test. The purpose of the test is defined on the State DOE’s web site,

The purpose of the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination (IREAD-3) assessment is to measure foundational reading standards through grade three. Based on the Indiana Academic Standards, IREAD-3 is a summative assessment that was developed in accordance with HEA 1367 (also known as PL 109 from 2010) which “requires the evaluation of reading skills for students who are in grade three beginning in the Spring of 2012 to ensure that all students can read proficiently before moving on to grade four.”

In 2015 more than 13,400 third graders failed to pass IREAD-3. I don’t know how many of those 13,400 were retained-in-grade. Those who did not pass the IREAD-3 had the opportunity to retake the test last summer. If they failed a second time, they either had to qualify for a “good cause exemption” (usually ELL and special needs students) or take the test again this March as a third grader. The law says that those who fail don’t have to be retained, but they must

…continue to receive Grade 3 reading and literacy instruction…

It’s up to the local school and district to decide how to handle that.

Perhaps politicians adopted the third grade test and retain policy in order to ensure that all third graders were reading at a proficient level, as they claim. The result, however, is that IREAD-3 is a tool put in place by legislators in order to punish 8 and 9 year old children for not learning to read fast enough or well enough. The reasons they didn’t/couldn’t learn at the speed required by the state might be varied. Perhaps…

  • their school didn’t or wasn’t able to provide early intervention because of budget cuts
  • they lived with family and community problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, violence, or absentee parents, and the mental health and emotional problems that result from such conditions
  • they didn’t have enough food
  • they didn’t receive adequate medical, mental health, or dental care,
  • they didn’t have a stable shelter or were homeless
  • they lived in an area with environmental toxins, like lead

Note: The legislature does not assume any responsibility for the economic condition of the families of children subjected to this test. They do not acknowledge that the effects of living in poverty has any correlation with low student achievement. The legislature ignores the negative research behind retention and the possible damage done to students’ academic and emotional lives.

The burden is on third grade children.

Learn or be punished!

[For more information on retention in grade see Research on Retention in Grade]

Posted in Bennett, Coll Bargaining, Due Process, Evaluations, GradingSchools, IREAD-3, ISTEP, Mitch Daniels, NPE, Pence, poverty, Privatization, retention, Ritz, Teaching Career, Testing

A Big Red “F” For Indiana

Indiana legislators and “reformers” love letter grades…so communities (via their schools) are graded as A through F using already invalid ISTEP scores. Those grades are good for things like getting campaign donations from privatizers, bashing public school teachers, and directing real estate agents to where the money is, but not much else.

Now that the Network for Public Education has given Indiana a grade of F because of the failure to actually help improve student achievement and public education, legislators will likely complain that these grades aren’t valid…that they’re biased (irony alert)…or even more likely, they’ll ignore them completely.

An editorial in Sunday’s (Feb. 14, ’16) Journal Gazette summarizes the report about Indiana…

State gets poor marks in dedication to schools

Indiana earns Fs for supporting teacher professionalism, resisting privatization and investing school funding resources wisely. It earned Ds for rejecting high-stakes testing and giving children a chance for success. Indiana public schools continue to serve the vast majority of students. Public school enrollment this fall was 1,046,146 students, compared to 84,030 non-public students.

The poor mark for high-stakes testing won’t surprise anyone familiar with the state’s continuing struggles with ISTEP+, the standardized test administered to students in grades 3 through 8. Indiana also is among a handful of states requiring third-graders to pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade.

The state did get a B in school finance…and a D in High Stakes Testing and Chance for Success, though, as we’ll see I disagree with the High Stakes Testing grade.

The grade card then, is 3 Fs, 2 Ds, and a B – not the worst in the nation (thanks to Arizona, Idaho, Texas and Mississippi), but certainly not anything to be proud of.

The complete report from Network for Public Education (NPE) can be found here

My comments, and my grades, along with NPE’s, cover three of the categories. These three alone would be enough reason to change the political leadership in Indiana in November (if not sooner). Add to that the refusal of the Republican governor to work cooperatively and respectfully with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, an actual teacher, and we have a serious situation for Indiana’s school children.

[On an interesting side note, the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), Glenda Ritz, used to be a Republican. She switched parties in order to help us get rid of former SPI and “reformer” extraordinaire, Tony Bennett. She recognized that his and then Governor Mitch Daniels’ policies were damaging the public schools in our state. Suellen Reed, the SPI before Tony Bennett, also a Republican, is currently on the advisory board of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a pro-public education group fighting “reform” and privatization. She served for 16 years as SPI under Democratic and Republican Governors in a congenial atmosphere which disappeared with the Daniels/Bennett administration.]


Indiana uses the ISTEP to grade schools and evaluate teachers, neither of which is a valid use of a tool meant for measuring student achievement. Last year’s ISTEP mess has at least encouraged the legislature to rethink the test and likely go with a different provider. However, grading schools and teachers using student achievement test scores will probably continue no matter what test is used.

Indiana also uses the ISTEP to label each school and school system on an A through F scale. Schools and neighborhoods are then either damned or lauded. That judgement is based, for the most part, on the economy of the families whose children attend the school since standardized tests have a direct correlation with family income. The D and F labels attached to low-income schools are detrimental to the community, to its families, and to its children. Students and their families are punished for having low incomes. Teachers are punished for working in high poverty schools.

Furthermore, Indiana uses a reading test, IREAD-3, to prevent students from being promoted from third grade to fourth. The rationale is that they need a year to catch up. Research into retention has shown time and again that students who are behind in third grade don’t catch up through retention, and in fact, fall even further behind. The money for IREAD-3 would be better spent on early intervention (see here, and here, and you might as well check this out, too).

NPE used various criteria in which to give Indiana a D. They also figured their grade before the monumental failure of last year’s ISTEP. My feeling is that the overuse, abuse, and misuse of tests in Indiana is reason enough to award the state a BIG RED F.

NPE Grade – D
My Grade – F


NPE graded states on their ability to treat teachers with respect as professionals. Indiana fails.

The legislative chairs of the respective education committees (Robert Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, and Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee) seem to take pleasure in depriving public school educators of their rights. In 2011 they led the drive to

  1. eliminate due process for teachers. In the past administrations which wished to terminate a teacher had to allow the teacher a hearing with an impartial mediator. This allowed the teacher to present her case in front of someone who was not involved with the school system and could rule impartially. We call this Due Process. The law was changed in 2011. Now, teachers who are to be terminated can request a meeting with the superintendent or the school board. The chances of a fair and impartial hearing are reduced. This is what was meant by the term tenure in K-12 education in the state. Indiana teachers no longer have it.
  2. reduce collective bargaining to only salary and insurance. Teachers and school systems no longer have the right to negotiate things like class size, evaluations, prep time, or parent teacher conferences. Teachers now must do what they’re told, despite the damage it might do to student learning. The collective bargaining law changes (actually all the law changes in 2011) were meant to punish the teachers unions in Indiana, which they have done, but they also limit the flexibility that school systems have in negotiations as well. The supermajority in Indiana doesn’t seem to understand (or care) that negotiations and bargaining is a process that takes two parties: the teachers and the school system.
  3. use student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers. Why is it that there are fewer “bad” teachers (based on student test scores) in wealthy areas? Why is it that schools in high-poverty areas always seem to have many more “bad” teachers? Because student test scores reflect the level of parental income. Using student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers (and schools) is quite simply a misuse of tests and should be stopped.
  4. force schools to abandon the step-scale for teacher pay and eliminate seniority. Apparently the supermajority and its “reformer” donors don’t consider experience a benefit in public schools. I wonder if they would be happy with an inexperienced teacher for their own child…an inexperienced surgeon taking out their appendix or an inexperienced attorney defending them in court. The truth is, experience matters, in every job or profession.

The legislature and the governor also have a problem listening to the elected educational professional in the government, the State Superintendent of Public Education, Glenda Ritz. Instead they’ve worked tirelessly, and successfully, to limit her influence on Indiana’s education policy. Apparently they believe that the auctioneer that leads the Senate education committee, the florist that leads the House education committee, and the radio talk show host who sits in the governor’s chair, all know more about public education than someone who

  • is a National Board Certified Teacher with two masters degrees
  • is a former Teacher of the Year
  • has 33 years of teaching experience in public education

Or perhaps it’s that she’s a Democrat and former union leader who got more votes than their “reformist” friend, Tony Bennett…

Here’s an irony for you…the legislature is “studying” the reason for the looming teacher shortage.

NPE Grade – F
My Grade – F


Public Education is a public trust. It should be funded and controlled by the public through democratically elected school boards. President John Adams wrote,

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Indiana has the most expansive voucher program in the nation, diverting millions of dollars from public schools to private, mostly parochial schools.

Indiana politicians also favor privately run charter schools over public schools by methods such as loan forgiveness (even when the school closes), additional special-favor loans to charter schools, and support for the proven failure of virtual charter schools.

In Indiana “failing” public schools end up as “failing” charter schools, which then become “failing” parochial schools getting taxpayer dollars. Instead of redistributing tax money reserved for public education to private corporations and religious organizations, the state ought to help students in struggling schools. In the past, Indiana was one of the few states where struggling schools got higher funding than schools in wealthy areas. That changed in 2015. Now, the better you do on standardized tests, the more money you get.

State budget proposal shifts aid toward wealthy schools

…changes in the funding system proposed Monday appear likely to funnel most of those extra dollars to wealthy and growing suburban school districts, while some of the poorest and shrinking districts could actually get less money.

So, instead of putting money where it’s needed, the state “rewards” schools for high performance, forcing students in poorer areas to do more with less. Those same students are then “blamed” for “failing” and their schools get closed or turned over to a charter company. The failure of the state to provide for the students is blamed on the school, the teachers, and the students, and privatization gets the PR boost, and the profits, it was after all along.

NPE Grade – F
My Grade – F


The state of Indiana is lead by a “reformist” governor and a “reformist” supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Their goals appear to be the complete privatization of public schools, the deprofessionalization of public school teachers, and the elimination of Indiana’s teachers unions, all accomplished through testing.

Things are not likely to change soon. Politicians talk a good game, but they are driven by the need to be reelected, which means they respond to those who pay their campaign expenses, i.e. donors. And the biggest contributors are the corporate donors who use public education tax revenue as a source for profit.

If Indiana wants to improve its public schools…and we ought to pause to think about whether or not that’s actually true…which will benefit all our children and our communities, we’re going to have to change things. Poverty is the main cause of low achievement. As long as Indiana’s 22% child poverty rate, the same rate as the nation’s, continues, we’ll have struggling students. At this point it will take several generations to undo the damage done by the last 12 years of the supermajority legislature and the last two governors.

There are no “silver bullets” when it comes to improving schools. The myth that “three great teachers in a row” can close the achievement gap has always been a ploy. However, if states are willing to invest time and money guided by the right values, we will see steady progress for our public schools and our nation’s children. 

Posted in IREAD-3, Testing

More Than a Test Score


Test scores have been released. Indiana’s third grade reading test (IREAD-3) scores show a decline in reading achievement for third graders state wide and locally.

3rd-grade reading ability slips: All local districts decline, as does statewide average

Scores were slightly lower across the board this year for a statewide test that measures third-graders’ reading ability, data released Friday show.

All four Allen County public school districts saw their passing rates decline, mirroring a dip in the statewide average of 84.2 percent from 85.6 percent last year.

The test passing rates for each Allen County, Indiana public school system, as well as the rate from last year, were listed…

Third-grade reading test results reported

Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) — 89.0% passed, compared with 89.7% in 2014;
Northwest Allen County Schools (NACS) — 90.1% passed, compared with 91.9% in 2014;
Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) — 72.5% passed, compared with 74.5% in 2014;
East Allen County Schools (EACS) — 78.2% passed, compared with 82.5% in 2014.

So all four public school systems in Allen County “mirror” the state’s drop in IREAD-3 scores. The declines are small…but are they significant*? We’re not told. We’re also not reminded that the students who took the test in 2014 are not the same children who took the test in 2015 and therefore comparisons between the two are questionable.

[*Significance, validity, and reliability actually mean something when we’re discussing standardized tests and using the results to label, blame, and punish. Do members of the Indiana state legislature, members of the state board of education, or the governor know what they mean?]


An interesting, yet consistent fact is the highest scores in the county were made by the two school systems with the lowest free and reduced lunch rate, a standard measure of school/child poverty level. SACS has free/reduced rates of 11.3%/3.6% and NACS has free/reduced rates of 11.3%/6.1%. FWCS and EACS have rates of 57.9%/8.2% and 42.5%/7.4% respectively.

Does the IREAD-3 test measure reading achievement, or socio-economic status?

The pattern is similar state-wide. There are a few outliers, but in general the pattern of low poverty schools scoring high, and high poverty schools scoring low, is consistent. For example, 99.3% of third graders in North West Hendricks Schools, with a free/reduced rate of 13.5%/6.6% passed IREAD-3. By contrast, only 53.7% of third grade students in Indianapolis Public Schools passed, with a free/reduced rate of 72.4%/3.4%.

Feel free to check out some yourself…you can find the free/reduced rates of Indiana’s school systems, and schools here:

Indiana DOE Compass

And a list of the IREAD-3 pass rates here:

Sortable Table: Find Your District’s Spring 2015 IREAD-3 Pass Rate

Take a look at cities like Gary, South Bend, and East Chicago, compared to a place like Carmel or Porter Township.


What exactly does the IREAD-3 test measure?

According to the Indiana DOE web site, the purpose of IREAD-3

is to measure foundational reading standards through grade three.

Looking through the web site we can’t find much about the validity* and reliability* of the test, however, which would seem to me to be fairly important, considering that third graders can be forced to repeat third grade reading instruction if they don’t pass.

Indeed, I’m not the only one who has had trouble finding this information. Indiana Parents For Fair Testing also couldn’t locate information about the validity and reliability of IREAD-3.

IREAD-3 has been inadequately piloted prior to its use. With no public information available about the test’s validity or reliability, parents can not evaluate whether or not the test does what it purports to do.

Is the IREAD-3 valid and reliable? Perhaps. Like other standardized tests published recently, we’ll have to take their word for it because it’s illegal to see the tests and review them. Without established validity and reliability how do we know that IREAD-3 measures what it purports to measure?


Returning to the Indiana DOE web site, we see that a passing score on IREAD-3 is a score of 446. One would hope that classroom teachers get more information than this…although, with only a few days left to the school year it’s not clear what Mr. Smith, for example, can do for Sally who got a score of 425. She’s either going to have to take third grade reading instruction again (if it didn’t work the first time what changes are going to be made to have it work next time?) or retake the test during the summer window (June 1 through July 24) after somehow learning what she didn’t learn the first time.

Indiana no longer provides funding for remediation. That money now goes to pay for more testing. Mr. Smith could volunteer to tutor Sally, Sally’s parents could pay him to tutor her, or send her to another tutor…but, perhaps, like many low scoring children, Sally’s parents haven’t got the money to pay someone to tutor her. What then?

In the meantime, Sally, along with other Hoosier children, are labeled as failures and will have to repeat instruction or repeat a grade (which doesn’t work).

And it’s all based on one test…

  • which likely measures a child’s socio-economic level more than his/her reading achievement
  • with unknown reliability and validity
  • with arbitrary cut scores

…and this is how we educate 8 and 9 year olds in Indiana…


  • Stop using one or two standardized tests (IREAD-3 and ISTEP+) to completely evaluate a child’s level of learning…especially tests which are questionable in quality.
  • End retention in grade, especially when it’s based on just one test like the IREAD-3. It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It’s a failed “remediation.” [See the recent excellent blog post by Russ Walsh, Retaining 3rd Graders: Child Abuse, Mississippi Style (NOTE: It’s not just Mississippi).]
  • Hold policy makers responsible for the level of poverty and other out-of-school-factors which have an impact on achievement in the nation, state, city, and school district. Children are not the only ones at fault. Parents are not the only ones at fault. Teachers are not the only ones at fault. Understand that there are out-of-school-factors which weigh heavily on student achievement. 
  • Give local educators and school boards a voice in how to evaluate children’s learning instead of relying on the political winds in the legislature, state board of education, and governor’s mansion.

That would be a start.


The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!

Posted in IN Gen.Assembly, IREAD-3, reading, Testing



I know it’s early in the legislative season and the bills being introduced in the Indiana Legislature are not all intended to become law. In fact, I suspect some of the bills introduced early in a session are for the expressed purpose of making later bills seem less crazy. When Representative “Florist” introduces a bill to transfer yet more public money from public schools to private and charter schools it will seem mild compared to Senator “Whacko’s” bill to force schools to teach the controversy about the Heliocentric Theory of the Universe (NOTE: To my knowledge no Indiana legislator has introduced legislation to teach that the sun moves around the Earth…at least not yet).

Thus, it’s possible that Senate Bill 169 (see below) will never get out of committee. But because of the terrible things being done to public education by legislatures in general, and Indiana’s legislature in particular, it’s worth paying attention to even the most insane education bill.


I won’t go through all the arguments about how standardized testing in elementary schools is being overused and misused. I have talked about that enough on these pages. If you’re really interested in everything I’ve said over the last 8 years click here for all of the 219 of my posts on the subject (number subject to change).

Instead, you could read any or all of the following…

Once you learn about standardized testing you know that it should not be used

  • for high stakes decisions (especially for young children) such as graduation or grade placement
  • as the basis of evaluations of schools or teachers
  • as a determiner of merit pay for teachers

Standardized tests should only be used for the purpose for which they are designed. Period. Standardized achievement tests like Indiana’s IREAD-3 and ISTEP, should only be used to measure the achievement of students. Teachers should be given the information gleaned from the test (if there is any) in order to help their students. The tests should not be used to punish school systems, schools, teachers, or students.

Indiana is one of a handful of states which use a third grade reading test, in Indiana’s case, IREAD-3, to determine placement of students in grade 4. This is in direct contradiction of good testing policy, yet we do it anyway.


Freshman Senator Erin Houchin has introduced Senate Bill 169 which provides for the state to move the third grade reading test — which must be passed before one moves to fourth grade — to second grade. It would seem that Senator Houchin would like to see second graders pass a reading test before they move on to third grade.

Fortunately, Senator Houchin wasn’t interested in adding another layer of testing. Her bill would require a second grade test to replace the test for third grade (although for the first year after the bill becomes law both grades will be tested. We wouldn’t want anyone to get away without their IREAD test).

Senate Bill 169: Requires that the state superintendent of public instruction’s reading deficiency remediation plan (IREAD-3) provide a reading evaluation for students by grade 2. (Current law provides that the evaluation must be made by grade 3.)

Perhaps Senator Houchin believes that the earlier we identify children with reading problems the better. If so, that’s good, because it’s true…and I applaud her for understanding that. However, we have teachers for that. During the years I taught second grade (or kindergarten, or first grade, or any other grade I taught) I never had to use a standardized test to help me identify which students needed extra help in reading. I was able to identify students who needed extra help and worked towards meeting their individual needs all on my own. Why? Because I was the teacher. That’s what I was trained to do.

The state of Indiana is filled with excellent teachers who know their students. We don’t need another misused standardized reading test to tell us which students need extra help. We didn’t need it for third grade students…and we certainly don’t need it for second graders. What we do need is to take the money we spend on the overuse of testing and provide schools with resources — materials and personnel — to help the students who are struggling.


Indiana residents, read Vic’s Statehouse Notes #190. The committee meets Wednesday, January 14, 2015. If that date hasn’t yet arrived then I urge you to email or call your senator as well as the senators on the Senate Education Committee. Tell them that it’s bad enough that we have a test with high stakes attached for third graders…we should definitely NOT move IREAD to second grade.

Contact Indiana Senators by Tuesday, January 13, 2015!

If you need any talking points, use Vic’s Statehouse Notes #190 or

Second Grade Testing: A Position Paper from The National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Most seven-year-olds are still in the process of acquiring the complex skills involved in learning to read and write. They need a chance to consolidate these skills which, at first, are fragile and inconsistent. Premature testing, no matter how well intentioned, is discouraging to the learner like having a work-in-progress exposed to summary judgment. And no matter how well intentioned the tests, no matter what the disclaimers or reassurances, the results will be understood by the children as judgment.

On Standardized Testing by the Association for Childhood Education International

…the Association for Childhood Education International denounces the contin- ued use of standardized testing in the primary grades and cautions against the use of these tests as a sole means of assessment in every year throughout the upper grades. Standardized tests are inappropriate to future learning and the motivation to learn. They have taken away the power of classroom teachers to make informed decisions about instruction and learning that leads to critical thinking, higher level learning, and decision-making.

Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

In general, assessment specialists have urged great caution in the use and interpretation of standard- ized tests of young children’s learning, especially in the absence of complementary evidence and when the stakes are potentially high…



The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

Stop the Testing Insanity!