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November 14, 2013

MARK HEINIG: Class of '63 - reflections on a half-century legacy

Our kids must accept responsibility for their education.

I recently went home to Terre Haute for my 50-year class reunion (Schulte High School Class of 1963). It was a bitter-sweet experience. We enjoyed renewing old friendships, catching up on each other’s lives and reminiscing about days long past. We missed absent classmates, both those still living and those who already have been called home.

As a retired educator, I couldn’t resist comparing us with today’s high school students.

The Class of 1963 didn’t take as many standardized tests as the Class of 2014 has, but those we did take meant something. Most Hoosier school corporations relied on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Schools only used the Iowa test results for their intended purpose: to measure students’ academic progress objectively. They didn’t affect the income and performance evaluations of teachers or schools, as the ISTEP tests do. Few teachers agree with the shift of emphasis from teaching to testing. Most would say the tests have become more important than the learning they’re designed to evaluate.

Teachers complain about lost instructional time. They need more time to teach and less time in meetings about ISTEP scores, accountability and professional development. Loss of instructional time is not new. It was frustrating good teachers when I began teaching in 1968.

Many school corporations use substitute teachers to cover the regular teacher’s time out of class. I was never a substitute, but I hired many of them. A sub as effective as the regular teacher is harder to find than the winning ticket for a huge Powerball jackpot. The teachers of the Class of 1963 avoided “teaching to the test.” How can a teacher or a school do that now when the stakes are so high?

Meetings aren’t the only source of wasted time. Teachers often have non-teaching duties in the classroom. My first department head gave me an article entitled “Stop trying to learn while I’m counting the lunch money!” Although we don’t usually do that now, interruptions continue to impede the teaching-learning process. Time in class does not equal time on task!

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