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Complicated ICAN issues deserve more research

Sharon Hays

I am writing in response to the editorial (‘ICAN can succeed in grade schools) in the May 12, 2004, issue of The Corydon Democrat written by Charles Ewry. Until this point, I thought that Mr. Ewry had done a balanced job of reporting on the ICAN issue. I’m so very disappointed to see him fail in that endeavor with this editorial.
As a parent who has spent countless hours doing research on this subject while my children are at school, I’m disheartened that someone who wishes to stand as an oversight committee member for me and the rest of the public chose not to do much research at all on such a vital issue. In my opinion, the skewed tidbits tossed out in the editorial can only have come from one source ‘ the South Harrison Community School Corp.’s administration office.
If you want to report on an issue, you have to dig into it from all sides, not just one source. I say that in complete honesty. I don’t want anyone ‘ reporter, reader, person on the street, etc. ‘ to take only my research into consideration when forming an opinion on this issue. I want everyone with a stake in the future of public education in this community to look at all of the facts for themselves.
Yes, ICAN is used in other school districts. However, it is not used as the primary assessment system across the entire population in most of those schools. It is used in most schools for special-needs students. That doesn’t require research, just a few phone calls. SHCSC wants to use ICAN for the entire school population. That makes about as much sense as using a can opener to open a ‘Ziploc’ bag.
There are other options available to educators that will satisfy the requirements of Public Law 221. All Public Law 221 requires is that the schools have some system in place that proves they are teaching standards. There are other systems used by other school districts that accomplish that requirement without any extra time from teachers and without replacing traditional, easily understood report cards. One such system is in use at more than three times the number of school systems using ICAN. The other systems generate a report for the state and one that goes to parents as additional information.
Yes, some teachers embrace the ICAN system. In the editorial, Ewry implies that if ICAN were truly flawed, more teachers would be speaking out against it. Our teachers are still working without a contract. Indiana is an ‘at will’ state. That means, in a nutshell, that if you are working without an ironclad contract, you are employed ‘at the will’ of your employer. If your employer decides to fire you, you get fired.
Let’s just think about that for a minute. We are very fortunate that we have some truly incredible teachers in our school system. All of them are, currently, ‘at will’ employees. Dr. Neyland Clark’s administration wants ICAN in place in our school corporation. That same administration is the employer of our teachers. How ‘willing’ do you suppose that administration would be if teachers who have valid concerns about the use of ICAN stood up and voiced those concerns publicly?
Our teachers have to keep food on the table just like the rest of us. Public outcry from the teachers that find fault with ICAN has not been forthcoming because they fear for their jobs.
Yes, letter grades are subjective. Anything that human hands and minds create is subjective. (That includes ICAN, too, since I’ve yet to find documentation that it was gifted to us from a non-human source.) However, parents and students know and understand what letter grades are based upon. Letter grades are based on correct or incorrect student work done in the classroom or at home.
What are ICAN assessments based upon? I have been trying for two school years to get a conclusive answer to that question. Some tell me they are based on classroom work. Others tell me ICAN assessments have nothing to do with classroom work, for the most part. Instead they are based on independent student evaluations; in other words, formal or informal tests given to the students by the teachers. Those are just the answers I’ve personally heard from teachers. Other parents have repeated to me additional answers to that question given to them by other teachers. I’m sure there would be still more answers to that question if we asked the corporation’s administrators. The short answer is: It depends on whom you ask. I find that to be somewhat … subjective.
There are so many problems connected to this issue. I want only to touch on one more. There was one point in the editorial on which Ewry and I agree completely. He said, ‘South Harrison may have been able to better help parents understand the program at the outset, but the ongoing debate isn’t helping anyone.’
All right, so we only partly agree. Actually, there must be two parties actively involved for a debate to exist. Parents have repeatedly asked for a public meeting with Dr. Clark and the administration to have a Q&A session and possibly iron out some of the problems. So far, the administration is unwilling to do that.
Where I do agree is that SHCSC should have done far more to explain ICAN to parents and teachers before implementation was even considered. Instead, the first introduction Corydon parents had to ICAN was when ‘report cards’ came home in the hands of our elementary students last school year. No forewarning whatsoever.
Also, they should have worked out all the bugs in the system before they let it spread like kudzu doused with Miraclegro from the elementary schools to the intermediate school. When questions and concerns were raised at the end of last school year, and parents worried about how ICAN would work in the intermediate school, we were told not to be concerned, that ICAN was going to stay in the elementary school. That’s right, we were told at the end of the 2002-2003 school year that ICAN wasn’t going to expand into any other schools until all the kinks were worked out. Imagine our surprise and outrage when we found out ICAN was indeed in place in the intermediate school.
Now we are supposed to believe that same administration when they say that ICAN won’t be in the high school and won’t hamper our students’ chances at further education? By the way, the administration has said that ICAN will be used, in a slightly different form, in the high schools within two years. There is an old axiom that seems to fit, ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’
I just hope enough people are shamed enough to stand up and speak out.
Sharon Hays and her husband, Michael, have two children in the South Harrison Community School Corp. They have lived in Corydon for seven years.