The State of Indiana is paying $40 million to the American Institutes for Research for a test that reaches the conclusion that 40% of West Lafayette Community School Corporation students lack proficiency in English and/or Math. I was hoping the ILEARN vendor contract had a “you get a refund if our product turns out to be bullshit” clause in it. Because that could have been useful.
I’m not shy about bragging about the West Lafayette school system. We have a bunch of smart kids from educated families and a test that says 39.5% of them are below proficiency in math or English is pretty clearly garbage. This is why it’s important that West Lafayette and schools like it take the lead in opposing the testing grift that has taken root in Indiana. It would be dead easy for our school system to cheer on the testing regime and reap the benefits from leading the pack when it comes to test results. When a school in the back of the pack makes these critiques, it looks like sour grapes and opens the school up to criticism that if they just did their job better, their students would test better. West Lafayette is largely immune from those lines of attack.
So, when the State spends $40 million to get a test that suggests 40% of West Lafayette students lack proficiency, it’s pretty clear the State just pissed away a lot of money. No grift can last forever, and maybe this one is falling apart. Fifteen years ago, Doghouse Riley wrote that ISTEP and similar requirements were “designed to prove that inner-city schools are failures right before we slash their funding, put the students in a lottery to attend schools run by the private sector, and call the whole thing off before it affects too many white people.” (The Washington Post history on Indiana school privatization suggests the ball really started rolling back in 1996.) My take has been that the push for vouchers and charters has been designed to subsidize religious education, break the teachers’ unions, and financially reward friends and well-wishers of the privatization advocates.
If Doghouse was right that the tests were intended to prove that the wrong sorts of schools were failures, the ILEARN is even more of a debacle. Having a test that makes good schools look sketchy might open people’s eyes to the possibility that the metrics were questionable all along. Combine that with the fact that we now have decades of data showing that charters and vouchers don’t improve outcomes. Throw in a particularly egregious smash and grab like the Indiana Virtual Schools, and suddenly the advocates of privatization as a market-based savior for the plight of underprivileged students trapped in “failing schools” start to look pretty silly. The man behind the curtain is becoming more obvious.
Stuart Swenson says
Wonderful comments about an evil problem that I wish would constitute front page news. People hate to be cheated unless they love being cheated by demagogues who can convince them into believing that they are getting their money’s worth.
Randy Studt says
Kendra Sue Hundt says
Please keep speaking up! We have to do this together no matter what school system or community we live in. I have long implored our Superintendents to take the lead, but understood why they could not and the criticism they would face. When parents feel supported by their school leaders they too will speak out.
Doug Masson says
Tippecanoe County generally and West Lafayette in particular have superintendents who have spoken up about this. Like I said, I think West Lafayette has a bit more latitude for its officials to speak up because their criticism of the testing regime is not as likely to come off as sour grapes.
Pam Alter says
Tippecanoe serves all students, including those WL suggests try other schools.
Nov 19 is organization day at the statehouse. Join educators from all over Indiana to let the legislators hear your complaints. Wear red!
Thomas DeHahn says
“No grift can last forever”, and maybe this one is falling apart.
Best phrase ever !
Stephen F Smith says
Most schools do not have parents who are Professors at Purdue. Know what? The school I first taught at was a small township school, (before I got here, another smaller school had joined it), and we were turning out kids who went to college and the military academies, and did very well in life. We also had kids who struggled, but they got through school and became very successful in what they went in to.
So let me just say this. If we REALLY want to have good schools, break up these schools with 2 thousand to 8 thousand kids, and send them to smaller schools in their community. Then, QUIT WASTING MONEY ON TESTS.
Finally, stop shoving so many classes at them that study halls are done away with, because here’s what some of us know :: study halls are where the kids actually learn. Class is basically to get instructions for tomorrow’s lesson, and then answer questions and discuss yesterday’s assignments — that thing called ‘today’s lesson’. That process is called “learn and review.” People who learned that way put astronauts on the Moon and brought them back, learned about bacteria and then gave us vaccines, and in general gave us the most prosperous civilization the world has ever known.
Then? Testing started, and what has that given us? 2 Presidents within 20 years who did not win the election even though they took office. Radio and TV programs with people that are able to lie day after day without being held accountable, and most of the electorate walking around with phones glued to their ears and never reading a book or even watching actual news on TV.
Deann McKinley says
Bravo. I echo your sentiments about smaller community schools.
Teachers understand the value of assessment. They practice it every day and virtually every hour. It’s called “formative assessment” and has been found to be a very effective way to teach as well as to evaluate learning. It’s interactive, makes everyone accountable and it works very well. Furthermore, it’s cheap. Summative assessment, in the form of the monstrosity which is foisted on the public, only serves to sort and further the evil inclinations of politicians who, in this case, love to throw away money on useless demagoguery. If you want to know how a kid is doing, don’t consult the ILEARN score. Ask the teacher and spend that money on actual education.
The underlying message from lawmakers insisting on expensive summative testing, the results of which are not returned in time to meaningfully guide instruction, is “we don’t trust teachers.” Poor performance on these tests is strongly correlated with the socioeconomic demographics of the school which, in turn, means that if schools are “failing” it has little to do with how good or bad the teachers are doing their job. Rather, disparate test scores reflect deeper social issues — e.g. income and racial disparities. These are more difficult and less profitable for lawmakers to address.
I heard a guy who said that he had a cheap and fast way to tell which schools contained the most high achievers: go into a representative classroom and count the number of mouths with orthodontic braces.
Go into the state school database and run a correlation between the percentage of kids on free lunch and the percentage of kids passing both math and English (with your Excel). It’s 70 (or, in this case, -70), roughly the same as the correlation between IQ and achievement.
Carlito Brigante says
My friend from college did his student teaching at a high income school in Indiana. He described it as a school where the students drove better cars than the teachers. That was his test for high achieving high schools.
Interesting. Subtract the mean value of the teachers’ cars from the mean value of the kids’ cars and you have a better index of achievement than iLearn. Unlike the iLearn, rich people have paid for it, and you have a whole new vocabulary: People who work at the $0 to $5K schools, the $6K to $10K schools, etc. The bigger the difference, the higher the achievement.
Carlito Brigante says
The Right opposes equality of outcome. And it does everything in its power to prevent equality of opportunity.
Carlito Brigante says
Every time I hear hear the canard that you can’t solve a problem by “just throwing money at it,” I know that that the solution is throwing money, albeit with pinpoint accuracy.
Rocky Killion says
Great work Doug as always. If you want more ammunition, check out EdWeek’s article about AIR (the company Indiana just paid $40+ to) getting out of the testing business. I guess it’s not profitable any more.
Article is on the left side of page.
Rocky Killion says
Forgot to add million after $40+.
Doug Masson says
Thanks for that. These are probably the relevant passages of that article for anyone who is interested:
So, maybe add to the ever-shifting tests, more problems caused by ever-shifting testing companies.
Cannot and never will be able to test in quality. I’ve said this for years. Stop wasting money to test in quality. If quality isn’t there from the start it won’t be there in the end. Stop just passing kids along if they are failing. Educate parents on their role as parent in their child’s education. Enforce discipline so classrooms can provide instruction. And for those children who, through no fault of their own, come to school unprepared to learn (i.e. homeless or other negative environments) figure out what can be done to help them.
A child who is homeless cannot come to school prepared to learn. Their concern is on food and shelter. Very sad.
Eric Gerlach says
I could go on and on about the absolute waste of money that is ISTEP or now the ridiculous ILEARN! The first thing people really need to know is that this is not about the children of Indiana or even creating a better educational system. The money spent on testing is nothing more than a political cash grab. Indiana politicians don’t ever want to see high-stakes testing go away. There is just too much money being kicked back by the testing companies to various political organizations! Trust me when I say people are getting rich at the expense of our kids. Not to mention that this new ILEARN test is not even a standardized test. Every kid is given different questions based on their abilities and knowledge. So from the very beginning you can’t make a comparison from one child to the next because they’re not getting the same questions. The test is also culturally biased against immigrants and minorities. Look at the data and it is clear that our state leaders want to point out the glowing differences in achievement of the diverse populations of Indiana! I have been teaching fourth grade in Indiana for 25 years and I have never given a test to my students more developmentally inappropriate than this dog called the ILEARN! It is no wonder over half the state failed. If I gave this 4th grade test to 100 educated adults on the street, half would fail. Not because Hoosiers are uneducated, but because the test is not measuring what it is supposed to be measuring. We need to put the blame where it really deserves to be. Our failures are not with our schools, teachers, or students. Our political leaders and the so called “educational experts” are to blame for this disaster. I find it funny that the “broken” American educational system was good enough to allow these rich politicians to attain their level of success, now all of a sudden our schools are broken and failing. How convenient is that? I have a suggestion! How about taking that 40 million dollars wasted on a test, and spend it on hiring more teachers to lower class sizes, so teachers can make a true impact, instead of constantly trying to teach to an ever changing test! Better yet, why don’t we carry out a little social experiment. Let’s give this ILEARN test at the statehouse to our so called leaders and see where the chips fall. I have money in my pocket that says many would fail! Then we can give our Governor and the rest of these politicians a failing letter grade letting them know how truly broken our state government really is.
Stephen F Smith says
What Eric said.
Carlito Brigante says
This has been an interesting thread. There is a Fort Wayne take on the ILEARN:
Less than 50% of students in each of Allen County’s four public school districts tested proficient in math and English. Northwest Allen County Schools had the highest amount of passing students at 47.5%, followed by Southwest Allen (41.6%), East Allen (38%) and Fort Wayne Community Schools (25%).
The same day the test results were released, Allen County’s four district superintendents held a news conference at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, highlighting what they believe to be a misguided attempt at holding schools accountable. https://www.fwbusiness.com/fwbusiness/article_9607d0d6-0550-5e31-9541-25a8579c8aaa.html#utm_source=fwbusiness.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F%3F-dc%3D1568106006&utm_medium=email&utm_content=read%20more
“Misguided attempt at holding schools accountable.” Gee dude, what is misguided about holding schools accountable.
i have never taught high school students and likely never will. I can offer no anectdotes or direct observation. But at what point we might wish to consider that Indiana students are woefully underprepared?
And perhaps Indiana is not alone:
Only about a third of U.S. high school seniors are prepared for college-level coursework in math and reading. And while the performance of the country’s highest achievers is increasing in reading, the lowest-achieving students are performing worse than ever. https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04-27/high-school-seniors-arent-college-ready-naep-data-show
At what point do we recognize that all of these standardized tests cannot be outliers?
I read the story, Carlito, and I saw the magic words: that they want to institute an A-F school grading system, and that they will base teacher salaries on those grades. It’s in their financial interests for kids to score low on the test (the format of which already puts students at a disadvantage with tests that are machine scored) so the state has a rationale for not paying teachers for their work. Not sure what “proficiency” means in this case, aside from the fact that it’s probably arbitrary, and anyone scoring in the lower half (Did you know that 50% of the kids score below average?) may not be “proficient”. Set the standards wherever you want and get the results you desire. I have a colleague who examined the “Common Core” curriculum and the authors’ claims that it prepared kids for college. My colleague went to the English dept. heads at the major universities in Chicago, all of whom said that the Common Core did NOT prepare kids for their program. What is proficient?
Some of these schemes that our wingnuts are implementing do not reflect their own “thinking”. They reflect some of the more atavistic beliefs of the lower forms of life found in Florida and programs that have been shown to put Florida’s educational program at septic levels. (Just ask any Florida teacher, not a politician.) The ghosts of former Indiana politicians and their “educational” ideas still haunt us. The problem is that these people don’t seem able to learn from mistakes. With ideology, you can ignore data. These schemes just hang on us like old stink.
Roger Norris-Tull says
Having been a public school teacher for 5 years and a college professor for almost 40, I would suggest that “college preparedness” may well be decided by the wrong people. A few professors and a VERY few institutions of higher ed actually value student success in the classroom. College professors by and large are very poor teachers and rationalize their students’ lack of learning on poor preparation rather than on the professors’ inability to teach students what they are supposed to learn. As they did when I attended college in the 60’s, many professors still boast about their high failure rate as a sign of their “high standards” rather than their own failure do their job. Success as a professor depends on the professor’s ability to publish in refereed journals and on the amount of grant funds secured… not whether they or not they are effective teachers. If professors — and those who oversee the counter-intuitive, ego-driven culture of higher education — were serious about having students succeed, they would have to start considering student learning to be more than a trivial aspect of higher education. A good first step would be to stop complaining about the students’ so-called lack of college preparedness.
Carlito Brigante says
Words fail me..