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.