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Teachers lobby to keep ISTEP testing in autumn

Friday, February 24, 2006

(Photo)
Ivy Herron photo

Jackson Township Elementary first-grade teacher Pam Fischer meets with Senators Billie Breaux (D-Indianapolis) and Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) Feb. 13 to voice her concerns about House Bill 1240.

On Feb. 13, two Jackson Township Elementary first-grade teachers took their ISTEP Plus concerns to legislators at the Indiana Statehouse. The teachers believe testing should remain in the fall.

Reports at the time seemed certain House Bill 1240, moving testing to the spring, would pass the Senate Education and Career Development Committee (SECDC). They could not know about the surprising turn of events Feb. 15.

HB 1240 would require students to be tested in the spring over material studied during the school year instead of being tested in the fall, after the summer break. While both teachers understand the idea, they're not sure its worth $45 million.

"I just think it's foolish to spend any money to move the ISTEP testing to the spring with the state's budget crisis being what it is," Pam Fischer told The Brazil Times while traveling to Indianapolis with Rogene Morge.

"They're going to make the test even more difficult to meet the standards. If it were scheduled in the spring, we wouldn't even be done teaching the required basics from the school year before they were tested on them," Morge added.

The two teachers had a list of legislators they wanted to meet, especially anyone on the SECDC.

"We have got to find these committee members, especially Senator Lubbers," Fischer said. "She's head of that committee."

The two teachers split up to accomplish their mission, but arranging meetings proved to be somewhat frustrating as each hurried to a senator's office to schedule an appointment and then waited to talk to them.

Sen. Tim Skinner (D-Terre Haute) praised the initiative of the two women, saying this was a time where teachers can't afford to shut up and need to speak out about how this change would affect students.

"Think of the number of students we would be able to put through all-day kindergarten with $45 million," Skinner said, then brought up high school seniors. "A senior, who has not previously passed the ISTEP Plus exam, will not get their test results back until the following fall. They will have gone through graduation not knowing if they really graduated, and, if they didn't pass the test, there are no provisions built into the bill for what happens next."

The graduation purgatory created by moving student testing to the spring is not the only problem Skinner has with the test.

"The ISTEP test does not grade intelligence or their ability to problem solve and students who are home-schooled do not even need to take the test," he said.

A chance meeting at the elevators led to a discussion with Sen. John Waterman (R-Shelburn) who was sympathetic to their cause. He offered his assistance to help get an appointment for the teachers to visit with Sen. Lubbers after lunch.

The teachers put their lunch time to good use. Fischer passed out a letter written by the other first-grade teacher at Jackson Township Elementary, Alyssa Rissler, who was unable to attend, and talked to anyone who would listen about HB 1240, while Morge sent an e-mail to Gov. Mitch Daniels' office. They also stopped to leave letters at all the senators' offices.

Stepping out of session, Sen. Teresa Lubbers (R-Indianapolis) said she was in support of moving ISTEP-Plus, but acknowledged there were problems that needed to be addressed before continuing any further with the bill. She agreed with the teachers, saying she knew cost effectiveness of any classroom testing is a factor that can't be ignored.

"We need to look into all types of possibilities, like online testing and diagnostic testing from various companies, while considering the cost," she said. "It is also important that we get faster student test results for classroom use by teachers."

Fischer and Morge left feeling good about their trek around the Statehouse.

"I think we did good," they answered together on the way back to Clay County.

"I really think they listened to us," Morge said. "I feel good about today."

On the 15th with people ready to testify against what seemed the bill's certain passage, the committee amended the bill, halting a vote by the Senate and possibly killing it this session.

The amendment requests the Indiana State Department of Education, at their own expense, perform a study to determine a long-term strategy for the way Indiana assesses the progress of students. Although the results could be that ISTEP-Plus testing is moved to the spring, or remains left in the fall, it could lead to the elimination of the test and replacement by another type of test.

The committee wants the results of the study by Oct. 1.



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