Written by Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

Indianapolis Schools face the same challenges as most of the nation’s urban schools: lack of resources and funding, high poverty levels, and increasing pressure to meet testing standards. The 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act that required all states to have all students to proficient levels in state tests by 2014 was created to raise national standards and demand accountability. No one in Indianapolis Schools is surprised that meeting those standards is proving to be a challenge. That’s the whole point.
While educators and parents in Indianapolis Schools are divided in their support for NCLB, and testing in general, the recent use of waivers for graduation has created more than its expected amount of tension. Here’s the issue. Indianapolis Schools, along with all other public districts in the state, test children using the Indiana Statewide Test for Educational Practice (ISTEP) exams. In order to graduate, Indianapolis Schools’ seniors must pass the Graduation Qualification Examination (GQE). The students are given five chances to pass the test, and it is designed to test mainly eighth and ninth grade knowledge. Sound reasonable right?
That’s why a recent Indianapolis Star editorial blasted Indianapolis Schools for what it called, “failing in its job of providing a rigorous education for all students”, based on reports that 17% of students graduated with waivers and had not passed the GQE.  The angry responses generated by parents of Indianapolis Schools’ students were surprising.
But is the backlash based on anything more than a few miffed moms? Here’s the rest of the story. Every single student in Indianapolis Schools is required to take the ISTEP and the GQE in order to graduate. This includes students with special needs, like autism, who have specialized individual educational plans (IEPS) to measure their success. Indianapolis Schools’ parents and educators are furious that a child could meet all the requirements of an IEP, bring home great report cards, and still not be issued a diploma.
The other area of controversy is in testing students who do not have English as their primary language. Should they be denied an Indianapolis Schools’ diploma if their grasp of core subjects in their native language is solid? The tests (in every subject) are only given in English. While this spurs national debate, no one in Indianapolis Schools really seems comfortable with denying students with disabilities diplomas. But the desire to uphold strict standards has some Indianapolis Schools’ supporters fearful of lowering accountability measures.
The Indianapolis Star opinion cited above expresses concerns that waivers will “undermine the value of a high school diploma.” It points out schools like Frankfort where 14% of seniors repeatedly failed the exam. The 17% waiver rate puts Indianapolis Schools three times higher than the state average for granting waivers. Indianapolis Schools need to look at the numbers and determine exactly how many waivers are granted for legitimate reasons, and how many are just glossing over standards. But defining those terms, and coming up with just solutions, is likely to spur more heated debate in Indianapolis Schools in the upcoming year.