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Indiana Superintendent of the Year: Parents should homeschool kids during testing week

Glenda Ritz, Superintendent of Public Instruction for Indiana, talks during a State Board of Education meeting about the ISTEP test, and length changes to it, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Indianapolis. Indiana will cut about three hours from the testing time for the standardized exam thousands of students will soon begin taking by eliminating some questions. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)
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(Clarification: Making clearer how Indiana rewrote its standards and accountability exam)

Superintendent Rocky Killion of West Lafayette Community School District in Indiana, who was named 2015 Superintendent of the Year by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, has some advice for parents: Keep your kids home when schools give the ISTEP, the state-mandated standardized test being given to students this spring.

ISTEP is the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, exams that were developed to test students’ knowledge on new Indiana standards that were developed last year after it became the first state to pull out of the Common Core State Standards initiative. The new test requires 12 hours for students to take and has become a flashpoint in a controversy that has been playing out in Indiana over Republican efforts to strip power from the Democratic Indiana Superintendent of Education, Glenda Ritz.

An anti-Core movement began several years earlier, but it wasn’t until 2014 that Gov. Mike Pence (R) — who became governor in January 2013 — backed legislation that took the state out of the Core. Indiana officials said they believed that any new standards had to be written in such a way that the state would not run afoul of U.S. Department of Education requirements — which included a set of “college- and career-ready standards” for maintaining a critical No Child Left Behind waiver. The new Indiana standards are similar enough to the Common Core that some anti-Core critics complained about them.

Indiana Education Department officials said that in creating a new test aligned with the new Indiana standards that they had to cover so much material to cover the new federally mandated standards that it would take 12 hours for students to take. (There is no federal requirement for how long a Common Core test should be, and the new federally funded Common Core tests known as PARCC and SBAC are hours shorter.) Pence called for the legislature to shorten the test, and lawmakers moved quickly on Monday to cut it down from 12 hours to nine, just in time for the testing window to open on schedule on Wednesday. The state Education Department had worked up a plan to cut it down so the exams would be ready.

Killion, who has been an opponent of standardized test-based school reform and who produced a documentary called “Rise Above the Mark” about the negative impact of it on public education, got infuriated early this month when students in his district took practice ISTEP exams and computers required to take them froze during the administration. He told WTHR-TV in Indianapolis on Feb. 12 that the experience upset some students and teachers and that the administration of the exam looks like it will be a “train wreck.” The story says in part:

“Lots of frustration, I had some kids crying, I had some teachers very upset so we just stopped the whole process and sent everybody back to the classroom,” Killion said.
The problem, Killion says, worsened when all of the students attempted to access the program at the same time.
“It’s inhumane what we are doing to the kids, what we are doing to the educational environment, we lost so much instructional time today, it’s ridiculous,” Killion said. “I would prefer all of my students’ parents withdraw and become home-schooled during ISTEP, and then we can re-enroll them.”

Last week, Killion repeated his advice to parents, and was quoted by Dave Bangert, a columnist for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, as saying:

“Since there’s no legislative mechanism, that’s the only opt-out workaround that I know to tell parents,” Killion said. “Typically, when I’m asked a question, I try to come up with the correct answer, and that’s what’s happened in this case.”

If many parents did follow his advice, Bangert predicted a “logistical nightmare,” which sounds about right. There are many, too, who think that some of these new standardized tests students are being given is far scarier.