Northeast Indiana school superintendents ask state to put off ILEARN test due to pandemic

Local News

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Nearly 40 northeast Indiana school superintendents have come together to petition for the state to change its ILEARN requirements for the current school year amid struggles related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Indiana Secretary of Education Dr. Katie Jenner, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston and Indiana Senate Pro Tem Rodric Bray, 39 superintendents of northeast Indiana schools asked the state to reconsider rethink the “daunting task” of ILEARN testing.

“Kids have had family members with COVID, who have had to go through quarantines, who have been on and off on site through no fault of their own,” said Dr. Chris Himsel, the Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent. “They’ve also got the mental health aspects of that which would be difficult to maintain and we just think that [the standardized tests] are another burden.”

The purpose of the ILEARN tests are to measure student growth and achievement on Indiana academic standards. It is given in classrooms in grades 3-8.

However, Dr. Himsel argues that the ILEARN tests only reveal whether or not a “kid passed a certain benchmark that the state randomly assigned.”

“They offer no information that is useful for parents administrators or teachers. So they really do not serve any purpose in helping us identify learning needs of kids and we think there are better ways of doing that.”

Among the arguments the superintendents make in the letter: students are learning both in-person and virtually, ILEARN testing would disrupt learning in a year when students cannot afford it, and quarantine rates and students learning remotely would pose an issue.

Another argument is that, according to Dr. Himsel, by cancelling the standardized tests, the schools will regain about twenty days of uninterrupted time that can be used for instructional purposes.

Dr. Himsel added that NACS receives concerns about the tests from parents every year. He said the main concern is that they take away from instructional time, while increasing student’s anxiety because of the test’s “high stakes” nature.

In the letter, the superintendents said each school district has continued to assess students through “formative assessments” and will do so again in the spring.

Dr. Himsel said NACS already uses the NWEA Map Tests as a formative assessment to make sure teachers are hitting some of the key learning points and that academic growth is continuing to happen over time.

“Those results come back immediately and they are in a form that is useful and actionable not only for teachers and administrators,” said Dr. Himsel. “They also take away far less instructional time than what the ILEARN does.”

He hopes eliminating ILEARN would set a precedent for upcoming years, as he’s advocated for the elimination of state mandated tests for over a decade.

“I’m a father of five kids and what I know is that being the father of more than one child is you find out that all kids are different,” said Dr. Himsel. “There is no such thing as a standard child, and what standardized tests do is measure standardized information.”

READ THE LETTER:

1 March 2021

Dear Dr. Jenner, Gov. Holcomb, Rep. Houston, and Sen. Bray:

The undersigned Superintendents of northeast Indiana have been working hard to plan for this year’s ILEARN testing requirements. As with many things during the ongoing pandemic, this is proving to be a daunting task. Many of the protocols put into place to keep schools operating, interfere directly with the government and test vendor requirements for administering the ILEARN assessment.

We request consideration of the following facts:

  • Our school districts are operating multiple learning models including in-person instruction and virtual instruction. Some of our more densely populated schools are also operating on hybrid models to maintain social distancing.
  • Current health department guidelines and local variables will likely require us to remain on these models through at least the end of the current school year.
  • Due to these realities, the time needed to administer the ILEARN assessment must at least double to meet current requirements. At a minimum, ILEARN will pull students away from critical instruction and skill development for anywhere from 8-12 days for each student. This would have an even larger negative impact in a year where student learning has already been greatly disrupted.
  • Large numbers of virtual students have refused to come to school for NWEA and other formative testing, despite multiple invitations and implementation of aggressive safety measures. Many students have, however, been able to take these tests from home.
  • Families who have chosen virtual schooling due to COVID-19 concerns may not be comfortable bringing their students into our buildings for testing, and may refuse to do so, significantly jeopardizing our ability to meet federally required 95% participation.
  • We are experiencing high quarantine rates among licensed staff. In addition, our pool of substitute teachers has been significantly reduced, in some cases by as much as 75%, due to COVID-19 related concerns. This will greatly affect each district’s ability to administer the ILEARN assessment, as licensed teachers are required to proctor the test for students.
  • We are quarantining students daily, in alignment with CDC, state, and local guidelines. These quarantines, which are outside of the control of the local school, significantly compromise the scheduling and standardization of the test.
  • Factoring in the additional time needed for makeup testing due to higher COVID absenteeism because of these quarantines, we are not confident that ILEARN can even be completed during the testing window.
  • ESSA, the Federal Education law which requires states to give annual assessments does not
    specify a specific test, just how the test is used.

In the letter from the Biden administration regarding annual assessments, it states “We emphasize the importance of flexibility in the administration of statewide assessments.” The current testing plan would divert much needed time, attention, and resources away from critical student learning needs. It would also place an excessive burden on our virtual students and their families, which this year make up approximately 30% of the student population in some districts. Most importantly, administering the ILEARN assessment under the current plan will not be able to help policy makers and educators meet the goal of determining each student’s learning loss. To accomplish this critical goal, we would like to offer an alternative solution.

Each of our school districts has continued to assess our students through local formative assessments and will be giving them again this spring. These formative assessments have greater flexibility in their administration requirements and increased usefulness for educators, families, and lawmakers. These assessments allow us to quickly and accurately identify each child’s individual educational progress. Each of our school districts has data for our students going back several years, which allows us to analyze each student’s growth and progress, as well as to compare their achievement to established norms. We would be willing to share these data with the state to compile averages which would meet the stated policy goal and could be used by the state to meet federal requirements, all while also saving the state millions of dollars during a time of economic uncertainty.

The challenges of the past year have helped us all to see what is truly important and valuable. On behalf of the school districts and communities of northeast Indiana, and for the good of our children, we ask you to please reconsider the current ILEARN requirements. Continuing with ILEARN during this unprecedented year would be a failure of imagination and would negatively impact needed instructional time as well as jeopardize student health and safety. ILEARN is expensive and provides little to no value for teachers and families. Instead, please use the valuable data we are already gathering and using to measure each student’s progress through our formative assessments. We would happily share it, allowing us to work together in our common mission to best meet the educational needs of every girl and boy in Indiana.

Sincerely,

Mr. Joel Mahaffey
Superintendent, Adams Central Community Schools
Mr. Byron Sanders
Superintendent, Baugo Community Schools
Dr. Brad Yates
Superintendent, Bluffton-Harrison MSD
Mr. Troy Gaff
Superintendent, Central Noble Community Schools
Mr. Dan Funston
Superintendent, Concord Community Schools
Mr. Steve Teders
Superintendent, DeKalb Central Schools
Mrs. Marilyn S. Hissong
Superintendent, East Allen County Schools
Mrs. Ann Linson
Superintendent, East Noble School Corporation
Mr. Brett Garrett
Superintendent, Eastbrook Community Schools Corporation
Dr. Robert Evans
Superintendent, Fairfield Community Schools
Dr. Mark Daniel
Superintendent, Fort Wayne Community Schools
Dr. William Stitt
Superintendent, Fremont Community Schools
Mrs. Tonya Weaver
Superintendent, Garrett-Keyser-Butler CSD
Mr. Anthony Cassel
Superintendent, Hamilton Community Schools
Mr. Chad Daugherty
Superintendent, Huntington County Community School Corporation
Mr. Jeremy Gulley
Superintendent, Jay School Corporation
Dr. Eva Merkel
Superintendent, Lakeland School Corporation
Dr. Teresa Gremaux
Superintendent, Manchester Community Schools
Mrs. Jane Allen
Superintendent, Middlebury Community Schools
Mr. Wayne Barker
Superintendent, School City of Mishawaka
Mrs. Kim Hiatt
Superintendent, North Adams Community Schools
Mr. Kenneth Hanson
Superintendent, North Miami Community Schools
Mr. Mike Springer
Superintendent, Northern Wells Community Schools
Dr. Chris Himsel
Superintendent, Northwest Allen County Schools
Mr. Sam Watkins
Superintendent, Peru Community Schools
Mr. Jeff Reed
Superintendent, Prairie Heights School Corporation
Dr. Daniel G. Hile
Superintendent, Smith-Green Community Schools
Mrs. Michelle Clouser-Penrod
Superintendent, South Adams Schools
Dr. Brian M. Sloan
Superintendent, Southern Wells Community Schools
Dr. Phil Downs
Superintendent, MSD Southwest Allen County
Dr. Brent Wilson
Superintendent, MSD of Steuben County
Mr. Mike Keaffaber
Superintendent, MSD of Wabash County
Dr. Scot D. Croner
Superintendent, Wa-Nee Community Schools
Dr. David Hoffert
Superintendent, Warsaw Community Schools
Dr. Steve Troyer
Superintendent, Wawasee Community School Corporation
Mr. Galen Mast
Superintendent, West Noble School Corporation
Dr. Randy Miller
Superintendent, Westview School Corporation
Mr. Steve Darnell
Interim Superintendent, Whitko Community School Corporation
Dr. Laura McDermott
Superintendent, Whitley County Consolidated Schools

The U.S. Department of Education last week reiterated that assessments like ILEARN are federally required. In a statement, Indiana Education Secretary Jenner agreed with that the assessments are important and said the state was working with federal and local officials to ensure ILEARN is administered safely.

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