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Testing foes call for change after film's premiere

Merry Juerling, an IPS parent and member of the group Parent Power, speaks at tonight's panel discussion as Carole Craig from the Indianapolis NAACP looks on.
Merry Juerling, an IPS parent and member of the group Parent Power, speaks at tonight's panel discussion as Carole Craig from the Indianapolis NAACP looks on.
Scot Elliott

After viewing a film critical of testing, Indianapolis parents who have organized into an advocacy group argued parents in the city should opt not to permit their children to take the many standardized tests given at school.

The film, called “Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights,” was produced by a former Pennsylvania teacher named Daniel Hornberger and argues increasing use of tests has narrowed the curriculum and made school less enjoyable for students and teachers.

The Indiana premiere of the film was this afternoon at the Central Library sponsored by Parent Power, Parents Across America, The Black and Latino Policy Institute and the Education Community Action Team. Afterward a panel discussion was moderated by Matthew Davis, the host of local arts events called Localmotion.

On the panel were Carole Craig, of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP; Kahlil Mwaafrika, a teacher at KI Community School, a private preschool that also assists some K-12 homeschool students with lessons; Phillip Harris, co-author of a 2010 book “The Myths of Standardized Testing;” Merry Juerling, an IPS parent and member of the group Parent Power; and Nathaniel Williams, an IUPUI graduate student in urban education studies who attended and taught in IPS schools.

Juerling said she had opted her children out of taking standardized tests, but it wasn’t easy. School administrators tried to talk her out of it and suggested it could cause problems for her kids. She called it “bullying.”

“Teachers are in hostile working environments,” she said. “Children are in hostile learning environments.”

Mwaafrika said the rush to standards and testing to reform schools is overkill. Public schools, he said, have been improving over time and should be allowed to continue that progress.

“Though reform has to happen, I believe public school education is doing exactly what it is supposed to do,” he said.

Craig said the push for dramatic changes has occurred in part because parents and others in the community have not done enough to stop it. They are often unable to attend school board meetings, state board of education meetings or legislative hearings because they are held at inconvenient times and without much publicity, she said.

But if they could get motivated, people could force change, she said.

“Indiana is seriously apathetic,” Craig said, pointing to historically low voting in the Nov. 4 election. “You have to show up with your voice by writing letters or coming out in large numbers. That scares people when you come out in huge numbers.”

One panelist thought the public had demanded changes in public schools in the city, but said the ideas for fixing schools that are popular now might not be what they expected.

“We have to be fully aware before we jump into action,” Williams said. “We knew our kids weren’t getting an adequate education. We looked at those data points and said ‘there is something wrong.’”

Rather than more tests, Williams suggested teachers should be selected with different criteria in mind and paid more.

“We need to increase the professional level of our teachers,” he said. “That means paying them more and having a higher bar for who teachers are. The caliber of love and authenticity, in many cases, is not there.”

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