Pfaff: Fixing high-stakes testing should be a top priority in 2020 session

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INDIANAPOLIS - The following op-ed piece regarding high-stakes testing in Indiana was submitted for publication by State Rep. Tonya Pfaff (D-Terre Haute):

We don’t go into teaching to watch our students cry about passing a test. We don’t go into teaching to have our hard-earned dollars tied to a test that we did not write. We don’t go into teaching to focus on a state-mandated test ahead of our own lesson plans.

We go into teaching to enrich the lives of our students, which has become more and more difficult with the implementation of high stakes testing.

As a teacher of high school mathematics for 27 years, I think I have a good idea about what educators in Indiana need. A seat at the table when decisions are being made that will impact the way we teach in our classrooms would be a good first step.

There are hard days filled with low attention spans and difficult concepts. There are late nights spent catching up on grading and lesson plans. There are low account balances made lower by purchasing classroom supplies.

I’m a professional. Give me two weeks with a student and I’ll be able to tell you what level they’re at, academically. I don’t need a test. While testing is federally mandated, we don’t need to be paying millions of dollars to state testing companies that come up with one-size-fits-all exams. We should be consulting the teachers in our classrooms to help us write a better test and create a better testing system. Especially when the test has been replaced or changed six times in the last 10 years and whose results have been ‘held harmless’ twice in the last four years.

In many cases, Hoosier teachers have little time to prepare at all before they are asked to start implementing the latest ‘new’ test’s standards into their curriculum. This is a direct result of the General Assembly’s decisions to change the tests almost yearly.

Hoosier teachers and their students are expected to successfully teach to a test that they are both not given enough time to prepare for and not sufficiently informed about.

That just doesn’t make sense.

As a teacher, my goal is to always prioritize what is best for students. As legislators, we also have the power to prioritize what’s best for students. I believe that we can and should do that by working together to fix our standardized testing system and include educators in the conversation. It’s simply common sense to ask the opinions of the very people who are on working directly with students every day.

In the upcoming session of the General Assembly, my goal is to make sure teachers feel empowered when it comes to laws and policies that directly affect them. We, as a state, are not utilizing our resources to the fullest when we do not consult the experts in this field.

In addition, I intend to do what I can to give our teachers and students a fair chance when it comes to the next state mandated test. Ensuring that ILEARN has consistent questions that make sense and that teachers and students are given enough time to prepare should be a top priority for the General Assembly in the upcoming months.

It’s time to focus on students again and make sure they are getting the most out of their education. Who are these high stakes tests helping? It certainly isn’t our children.

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