Friday, January 29, 2010

States Faced with Budget Crisis

I have sent the following letter to the newspaper in Bloomington Indiana which is the Herald-Times.

A little creative thinking can minimize the negative impact on the MCCSC of the 3.8 million dollar funding shortfall. One solution that does not involve sacrificing our children's learning by firing teachers and increasing class sizes is simply to suspend the ISTEP assessment for two years.

The savings from this "cut" would come from two budget items: 1) the direct expense of the test and the cost of scoring it; and 2) the five days added to the school year when ISTEP was implemented. Recall that, when ISTEP was put in place the school year was increased from 175 days to 180 days to provide the time to administer the test.

The most current figures from the MCCSC annual report (February 10, 2009) show a cost of $615,707 per day of operation. This figure is derived from multiplying the average annual expenditure of $10,100 per student times an enrollment of 10,973 students, which yields an annual figure of nearly $111 million. Dividing this number by 180 days produces a daily cost for MCCSC of more than $600,000. Thus, reducing the school year by five days yields a saving of nearly $3.1 million. Including the cost of the test and its processing would provide the full savings the district needs.

We can think of at least three concerns that would need to be met if this idea is to take shape. First, the governor and state legislature would need to pass a bill immediately that would allow a district to temporarily suspend the test. But this IS an emergency. Second, we would need to make use of alternative sources of data for the placement of students, but such information already exists in the form of teacher observations and performance work of the students. Finally, we could use these same alternative sources of data for purposes of teacher accountability.

If our primary aim is to ensure that our children have the education they deserve, with the teachers they deserve, in classes small enough to be effective, we should be willing to forgo ISTEP testing to help us get through this budget crisis without sacrificing our children’s education.

Phillip Harris, EdD, Executive Director of Association for Educational Communication Technology 812-335-7675

Joan Harris, MS, Third Grade Teacher – University Elementary School