Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ISTEP + Scores Released: Winners and Losers Announced

Tony Bennett, Superintendent of Public Schools in Indiana, is using student tests scores this election year to be the big winner after ISTEP results were released July 10th.  The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) homepage boasts Hoosier Students Set New Performance Records”.
Indiana’s students earned another year of record breaking scores on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress Plus (ISTEP+), State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett announced today … “More students are getting a world class education in our schools.”

Bennett translates improved scores on the ISTEP as “getting a world class education.” Ironically, the opposite is true.

Nations scoring highest on the PISA, the national test we hear so much about, have long moved away from using standardized tests like the ISTEP to determine success or drive instruction.  Alfie Kohn, noted speaker and writer on human behavior, education, and parenting, has this to say about using standardized tests to measure quality:

As a rule, better standardized exam results are more likely to go hand-in-hand with a shallow approach to learning than with deep understanding. What is true of a student’s thinking is also true of a teacher’s instruction. 
A rise in scores may be worse than meaningless:  it may actually be reason for concern.  What matters is how that change was brought about and what had to be sacrificed to make it happen. 
Elementary school achievement is high in Japan, for example, partly because teachers in that country are free from the pressure to teach to standardized tests.
We are facing an educational emergency in this country.  The intellectual life is being squeezed out of schools as they are transformed into what are essentially giant test-prep centers.  The situation is most egregious, and the damage most pronounced, where high stakes are attached to the tests.
Bennett is the educational emergency Indiana is facing. Instead of advocating for public education and campaigning against standardized testing, Bennett uses test scores to support a different campaign:  the privatization of public education.  Follow the money trail for Bennett’s reelection bid.  

On the list you will find ISTEP testing contractor, McGraw-Hill. Others include for-profit charter schools, cyber schools (which Bennett pushed despite abysmal track records), out-of-state contractors, pro-voucher supporters, and several Wall Street hedge fund managers. There are reasons hedge fund managers from New York City bankroll Bennett’s reelection campaign, and it’s not benevolence for Hoosier children.

Each time we use ISTEP scores to compare schools, to value or devalue schools, or to brag about their performance, we legitimize the existence of a tool that is being used not to improve public education, but to dismantle it.

If Bennett is successful at using ISTEP scores to come out as the big winner, then it is also a big win for the private corporations 
backing his reelection campaign and turning the education of Hoosier children into a commodity.  

That also means it is a loss for Hoosiers, who can expect to see the continued distortion of public education from a pillar of democracy to a means of profit for big corporations.  It is especially a loss for Hoosier students as educational practices continue to deteriorate under Bennett.


  1. Great post. It would be nice if we could use tests for their designed purpose!

    Meanwhile "Superintendent of Department of Education" Bennett, is traveling around the country selling the public school children of Indiana to corporate interests...see

  2. Indiana's ISTEP+ test results this year are as predictable, manipulable, believable, and as meaningful as the results of a "professional" wrestling match.

  3. Since I began learning about the systems we use in education, I have been blown away. My 5 year-old can come up with better systems to measure learning. This is all stupid to the highest degree. It is generally accepted that if you tell someone they are a criminal, they will act like one. So what if you tell someone they are sub-par or below average repeatedly?

  4. In the first paragraph praising success of ISTEP scores, the DOE reports "Educators from top performing schools across the state joined him in celebrating" Elitist. We win. You lose.

    As a teacher in Indiana, I find the competition involved with test scores degrading. What does it say about us if we go around saying, my kids did better than your kids? I think it shows we do not have true compassion for every kid.

  5. As a retired teacher in Indiana (36 years), I can attest that this article is right on. Bennett and his associates (whoever) have dealt a death blow to public education in Indiana. ISTEP test scores do not begin to measure quality in education. We are forcing teachers into being test-giving robots and we are forcing students into test-taking robots. Politics in education is shameful.

  6. As a student currently working to obtain a teaching degree, I cannot wait to see something better for our schools! Bennett has done nothing good for our schools at all. The ISTEP tests should not be a competition to see which teacher is the best, but rather a tool to determine what areas the students need more instruction in. It isn't about one teacher being better than the other, teaching is about caring about the kids and wanting to help them learn! Putting teachers over the coals for the test scores is deplorable and needs to stop.