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September 26, 2013

MARK HEINIG: Tests, Tony and tomorrow: a look ahead

Will the next generation test kids better than we?

I find myself reading incessantly about the manipu-lation of ISTEP-plus test scores by the Indiana Department of Education, when Tony Bennett was at the helm. I’m certainly no disciple of our former state schools chief. I have written so many articles criticizing the man and his policies that nobody could consider us friends. But we aren’t enemies either.

He is right in insisting that we must reform our schools, both public and nonpublic. He was wrong in the way he handled the Christel House affair. It involves ethical issues that may discredit him, even though he probably considered his actions appropriate. Unfortunately, good intentions mean very little to people who don’t understand the issue — any issue!

Dr. Bennett tried to do too much too quickly. That led to widespread confusion and distrust. Apparently, Bennett lacks the communication skills to adequately explain his program and the leadership skills to restore public confidence in it. Ironically, the part of the public with the most at stake is also the part least likely to understand: our school children!

As I read about standardized tests and the larger issue of school reform, I find plenty of good arguments, both pro and con. What I don’t find are arguments specifically written to help our kids understand the dispute — both sides of it! That’s a tragic oversight. I don’t think I have ever seen an issue better suited to teach youngsters about how our government functions.

Old social studies teachers (like me!) have spent years hoping for such an ideal opportunity to help students experience the democratic process through real-life simulations and other hands-on learning activities. We rarely have the chance to actively engage our kids with lessons about something so relevant to each one of them. Dr. Bennett has inadvertently given us that chance.

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