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ICAN debate continues with battle of binders

It was a dark and stormy night.
On July 13, parents opposed to ICAN received a response to the lengthy document they had presented a month earlier to the South Harrison Community School Corp. School Board of Trustees. The binder outlined concerns, posed questions, cataloged internal communications, and included petition for the program’s removal.
The corporation responded with its own, thicker binder intended to answer questions posed by ICAN’s critics and to bolster support for the program.
In each instance, the respective document and a spoken presentation were delivered to the school board, but neither side showed any sign of concession.
The meeting was interrupted for about 45 minutes as everyone sought shelter in a central hallway in the administration building as a powerful windstorm swept through Harrison County, knocking down trees and knocking out the electricity late in the meeting. Several people left during the interruption.
The Individualized Classroom Accountability Network is an Internet-based software system that is endorsed by the Indiana Dept. of Education. It can be used for curriculum planning, student assessment and analysis, and generating a progress report.
The program is designed to work in a system of standards-based accountability. That system is becoming the norm due to legislative efforts, including Indiana’s Public Law 221 and the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
South Harrison administrators argue that ICAN is the best of several alternatives for teaching Indiana’s state standards.
ICAN opponents argue that the program is inherently flawed. They give a list of weaknesses to match the state and corporation’s list of strengths. Very often, the two groups find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum even while discussing the same aspect of the program.
Opponents say ICAN takes away incentive by taking away letter grades. Supporters argue that struggling children are no longer demoralized by grade comparisons, and gifted children are encouraged to master concepts rather than stop at an A.
Opponents argue that subjectivity results in a great deal of inconsistency in the ICAN system, where students are given such ratings as ’emerging’ to show their proficiency with standards. Supporters argue that ICAN is more specific, therefore more objective.
The list goes on and on.
The gap in opinions is broad, but the size of dissension is difficult to measure. While some school administrators insist ICAN is opposed by a vocal minority, the petition included 172 signatures and teachers are among those speaking out.
ICAN opponents were further inflamed when the corporation’s July 13 response included a lengthy presentation to school board members during which no comments were allowed from the audience of about 35 people.
However, the opposition’s feelings were easily noted.
Statements supporting ICAN were met with murmurs, while infrequent criticisms, inquiries or statements by board members were met with applause. Late in the meeting, an emotional Diane Shewmaker, a trustee, asked audience members to be silent because the board could not hear the presenters.
The lengthy response, delivered by Laura McDermott, principal of Corydon Elementary School, and Jeff Hauswald, the new principal of South Central Elementary School, addressed each question from the critical document, but the speakers were noncommital on questions relating to the implementation of ICAN in secondary school.
Whether or not the corporation plans to remove letter grades and grade-point averages from high school has been one of the hottest topics in the ICAN debate. After the presentation, Hauswald said the corporation would always retain the standard used by colleges for comparing students.
In a past interview, Supt. Neyland Clark said that the corporation would not remove grade-point averages or do anything that would limit students’ ability to compete for scholarships and college acceptance.
Some voices on both sides of the issue have said that the impasse could be resolved if letter grades were given alongside of ICAN progress reports. But, the dual grading would require an agreement with the teachers’ union, the South Harrison Education Association.
That group has been without a contract since August 2003, making the prospect of their agreeing to additional duties unlikely.