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Advocates urge state to look beyond math and reading in measuring schools

As Indiana takes on the complex process of overhauling the way it judges and supports schools, education advocates are calling on state officials to consider more than just reading and math test scores.

More than 50 school librarians, arts and music advocates, nurses and parents who came out Wednesday night to an Indiana Department of Education community meeting urged officials to to start factoring things like music, health and art into the state’s accountability system.

The system, which includes A-F grades, tests and strategies to improve struggling schools, is undergoing a review in the face of new federal rules. The new rules not only require the state to change they way it assigns grades to schools, but they also give states more leeway on how they can distribute federal funding to schools.

At Wednesday’s meeting in Decatur Township, advocates primarily tried to convince state officials to use their new funding flexibility to steer additional resources to important school functions that have been neglected in recent years.

The advocates say that an intensive test-driven focus on math and reading has left other important programs, such as student health services, wanting.

Lisa Prasser, president of the Indiana Association of School Nurses, called on the state to add in more funding so each school can have a nurse in the building. She said in some parts of the state, one nurse could be responsible for 1,000 to 1,200 kids in a district across multiple schools.

Prasser said nurses can help schools lower absentee rates because students don’t have to be sent home for health issues.

“It is no longer boo-boos and bandaids,” Prasser said.

Gary Holland, a member of the NAACP education committee, asked the state to fund training for teachers to help them relate to students who’ve experienced trauma and come from diverse backgrounds.

“One of the root problems that leads to the school-to-prison pipeline is the lack of cultural understanding in the classroom,” he said.

Eric Martin, president of the group Music for All, spoke in favor of adding in ways to hold schools accountable for teaching music and arts to students.

“A the end of the day, (music and arts give kids) the collaboration skills, the opportunity to engage entire families in an aspect of the student’s life,” Martin said.

And Funmi Ige-Wright, a parent of a daughter with Down Syndrome from Columbus, said the state needs to make sure schools don’t exclude students with special needs.

“We cannot rely simply on the goodwill of the people around her,” Ige-Wright said of her daughter. “It’s important that the accountability system in place at the state, district and school level takes into account the academic progress of students who are differently abled.”

The education department didn’t answer any questions or engage in discussion last night, but said all comments would be compiled and released with answers or additional information at a later date.