InDEPTH with Brad Byrd: Education struggles



Sometimes school means anticipation, anxiety, and challenges for students, teachers and administrators.

Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd spoke with Dr. David Smith, the Superintendent of EVSC, about the struggles students, teachers and faculty face in this day in age.


Brad Byrd: Welcome to In-Depth: The school bells have been ringing throughout the Tri-State for more than a month now. With that comes anticipation, anxiety and challenge for students, teachers and administrators. Tonight, I wanted the perspective of a longtime educator who’s been involved with students and their mentors for more than almost four decades. And joining me is Dr. David smith, superintendent of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation – the largest school district in our region, third largest in Indiana. One of the largest in the Midwest. 23,000 students under your umbrella. I want to put a human face on this – and we’ve seen this tradition where you greet some of the students at some of the schools on that very first day. Tell me how you feel about what these kids – especially these young ones – are facing during this academic year.

Dr. David Smith: It’s important to go out and greet students. School today is so much different than it was 5, 10, years ago – certainly when I was a student. And students are under immense pressure as are teachers. But that first day of school is a humbling experience because it’s really a culmination of thousands of individuals working together to make sure all 23,000 kids have a great start.

Brad Byrd: And times indeed have changed; high-tech and what kids are having to do and basically function in this society. There are only so many hours in the day. Are there some areas of the learning process somehow getting put on the back burner because of that?

Dr. David Smith: I think for several years now that because of accountability; high-stakes testing, we’ve actually done some harm to students because we’ve taken play away – reduced recess – all those things we know are so important for students – we at EVSC are saying accountability is what it is – we want to make sure we educate the whole child.

Brad Byrd: The iLearn test scores came out. 60% of the students failed that test and that replaced the controversial I-STEP test. What was your reaction when you saw those scores?

Dr. David Smith: Well, one of continued frustration. Statewide: 40 schools out of 17,000 saw an increase. That’s only two percent so, I don’t want to suggest to our public that 98% of our schools didn’t do a good job. Once again, it’s a very unstable environment – we had a new vendor again this year. We went from a fixed form to an adaptive form. So, everyone had a different test based on the first several questions.

Brad Byrd: And that brings me to this, the argument can be made – teachers have made the argument, students have made the argument, I’m sure some of the administrators have made the argument – that in today’s environment with these standardized tests, like iLearn or I-STEP – students and teachers are concentrating more on prepping to take a test – one test. Is that a reasonable statement?

Dr. David Smith: I think that is what folks believe. There’s immense pressure to do well on that test. But everybody knows that a child is more than a test score. And we’re working diligently to help our folks understand that the longer-term view is to educate the whole child. But there is immense pressure to do well on that high-stakes test – one that has not proven to be reliable and it does us no good and we can’t compare to previous years. It is, frankly, a worthless assessment.

Brad Byrd: John Krull, who is the Director of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College, wrote an op-ed saying that the test should be diagnostic in nature, not punitive. With that being said, publicly grading those schools – with letter grades – the stigma that might place on the students who go to those schools – I know accountability has to be put forward – but is that really fair to those kids? If they’re going to those schools that is publicly being shamed.

Dr. David Smith: A couple points. Accountability is important and we don’t shy away from that. And I agree that the assessment should be diagnostic in nature – that was the original intent, but frankly I don’t think the powers that be don’t trust the public enough to understand what is truly going on in their schools. So, we have put up a simplistic label for a very complex task. No parent would accept their child coming home at the end of the year with one letter grade on their report card. But yet we think that’s sufficient to grade our schools. And frankly, it’s not. And I can count on one hand the amount of people who have come to me to complain about the education that their child is getting at one of our schools. Parents know better and I just wish Indianapolis would know that.

Brad Byrd: teachers and administrators are facing a lot of pressure – how engaged are parents in this day in age?

Dr. David Smith: Parents have an incredibly difficult job to do and I think they are as engaged as they feel they can be. Parenting is different today than when I had kids in school. But going back 50 years with the Coleman report, it spoke to the importance of parents in the educational aspects of their child.

Brad Byrd: And some teachers will say the pressure they’re under – in some cases they have to buy school supplies – feel like they’re almost like a second set of parents for these kids because the majority of their waking hours they spend in that classroom.

Dr. David Smith: And teachers are right. I’ve been with our district for 38 years. The pressure on the teachers is immense. We try to lessen that but you factor that also with pay that hasn’t kept up because frankly, funding for EVSC – if the state just kept pace with inflation – they’d owe us $100 million over the last decade. The pressures on everyone are immense. And no one understands those kinds of prolonged toxic stress is not good for anyone.

Brad Byrd: Thank you for joining me tonight Dr. Smith.

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This story was originally published on September 18, 2019

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