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GlenEva Dunham

GlenEva Dunham

Once again, we are being told that Hoosier students' standardized test scores are low, but the governor and Republican legislators want to move legislative action to ‘hold teachers and schools harmless.’

Really? Hold teachers and schools harmless? Who are they really protecting, and why?

Year after year, educators, parents and even students talk to legislators about the ineffectiveness and negative effects of high stakes testing first in ISTEP, then ISTEP+ and now ILEARN. We have shown numerous examples of how the narrowed curricula hurts our ability as educators to provide a high-quality education. Precious learning time is lost every year on test prep, students and educators alike are so stressed out about test results that they get physically sick. Whole communities are hurt when their schools are assigned a C or D or even F. Does this sound like we are being held harmless?

Although scores are embargoed, Gov. Eric Holcomb and Superintendent Jennifer McCormick have shared that ILEARN scores are lower than expected. They state the reasons include that it’s a new test, there’s a transition period, the format has changed and more. All Indiana public school A-F grades, teacher salary and merit pay, aka teacher appreciation grants, are determined in part by these high stakes test scores. For the second time in just four years, Republican legislators have vowed to ride in on their white horses and “hold harmless” teachers and schools and protect them from the punishments created by … them!

So, who is being protected while we again await legislative action next year?

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Not the students; they have already taken the test, suffered the pressure of high expectations to excel on ILEARN, even have shortened summer vacations just so the cycle can begin again. Hoosier students are ready and capable to learn and succeed if given a chance to do so. Schools are not test factories — schools are the hubs of our communities, places to impart knowledge, inspire a love of learning and help our students grow into future leaders — and students are so much more that test takers. Instead of claiming to hold students harmless for these ineffective standardized tests, give teachers the freedom to teach and provide us the tools, time and resources to help our students reach their God-given potential.

Teachers are also not being protected. Teacher salaries and any merit pay are determined in part by student test scores; therefore, teacher salaries remain frozen. Legislators and Holcomb declared during the last legislative session that raising teacher pay was utmost on their agenda, yet they did nothing to establish preemptive language that would protect teachers from the inevitable effect of low test scores on this new high stakes test.

So, how exactly are the legislators protecting teachers and holding us harmless?

Maybe the real people that the Republican legislators and the governor are protecting is themselves. By doing nothing to remedy years of botched standardized testing schemes, they are claiming to be holding us harmless for a mess we not only did not create, but warned them time and time again that it was coming.

Instead of holding us harmless, they are holding us hostage. Let’s remember come November and vote for real leaders that will work with us to support our communities, provide high-quality education to all Hoosier students and value the hard work and dedication of our teachers.

GlenEva Dunham, a teacher in Gary, serves as president of AFT Indiana, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers representing about 5000 teachers in Indiana.  She can be reached directly at 219-895-0231. The opinions are the writer's.

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