Goshen News, Goshen, IN

September 20, 2013

There's more than numbers to education


ALBION — Numbers are used in our society to both justify and vilify programs and positions. We think this may be the case with our annual Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress Plus.
The annual testing is used to obtain statistics on how many students in each school corporation, each school and each third- through eighth-grade classroom and each sophomore class, are doing in math and English/language arts. The goal is noble, to make our school staffs better and to ensure students are learning the basics of education.
But educational standards are moving targets. They change periodically in our society, as one group of politicians is replaced by another. For it is the politicians who campaign, mostly against, the education establishment as if our local educators spend their days filling our children’s’ heads with wrong thoughts that will lead to our society’s downfall. Also, student performance on standardized tests is sometimes used to vilify our educators, which makes no sense seeing how local schools are controlled by local school board members elected by local people.
There are many variables inside and outside the classroom that have greater impacts on students far more than the teacher who stands in front of them every day. When looking at Goshen Community Schools’ demographics, it’s easy to determine a couple of these factors.
Goshen is a pretty large district and has 6,524 students. Of those, 3,737 students qualify for free meals under federal household income guidelines. Another 700 students are eligible for reduced-priced meals. While a family’s poverty doesn’t doom a student to poor performance, families that are struggling day-to-day may not be able to focus on a child’s homework assignment.
Of the Goshen student body, 3,031 pupils are Hispanic. This means many of those students learn Spanish as their first language at home and have to learn English quickly in the early grades to be able to perform well on the English/language arts portion of ISTEP. Anyone who has attempted to learn a second language should be greatly sympathetic with the plight of Spanish-speaking first- and second-graders preparing for their first ISTEP covering English in third grade.
Despite these issues, we don’t think family income or original language issues should be a lifetime hinderance to learning — but they cannot be discounted as having no impact on Goshen students.
As recent improving test results for the Goshen district have shown, eductors, students and Goshen families are seeing positive results of the continual effort to improve education in Goshen. If Goshen parents continue to make education for their children a priority, and if educators continue to seek out innovative ways to help children learn, then our community’s children will continue to have the best opportunities to learn and prepare for their futures.
Yes, we did use ISTEP numbers as a benchmark, but we think any such statistics should have several footnotes that explain the human factors that influence the results.