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Several students sit at a gray table to take an exam using bright, yellow pencils. The classroom background is white.

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Illinois’ education board moves to waive tests, ponders missed school days

Illinois will likely waive state tests and school ratings this spring, the state board has informed the federal education department. 

According to the state board, once the waiver is approved, schools will maintain their accountability status for next school year. That means that struggling schools will continue to receive support and interventions next year that they’re currently receiving.

The tricker question for the state’s school board is what it will do about all the school days that students are missing. Should they require districts to make up those days? Or will schools just write them off? What constitutes an instructional day if students have to stay home? 

Since Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Friday that schools will remain closed until April 8, the state school board said it will count all days from March 17 to March 30 as “Act of God” days, excusable under state law. The state board has not stated whether or not it will count days from March 31 to April 7 as instructional days. 

If the state decides to count days as instructional, school districts must figure out how to teach children. The reality is that many districts in Illinois are not prepared to switch learning online. In a recent survey, two-thirds of education leaders across the state said they are not prepared to do remote learning. School districts lack devices, software, internet access, and also instructional and technical expertise. 

Officials at the state and at Chicago Public Schools have said separately that they are trying to tap into the philanthropic community to acquire more devices for students that need them. 

In response to a question from Chalkbeat about how those efforts were going, the office of Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that the governor had “prioritized the health and well-being of students across the state, with the goal of not impacting their education” and advised districts to “utilize whatever means possible” to continue teaching and learning. The state board has assembled an advisory group of educators, administrators and stakeholders from districts across the state to explore what is possible and reasonable for schools to do remote learning. 

One week after closing schools, Chicago Public Schools has yet to release a districtwide remote learning program. With the district’s school closure extended to April 20, the lag has heightened uncertainty among district educators. 

Marian Towns is a special education classroom assistant at North River Elementary School on the North Side. Towns’ school is predominantly Latino with a large portion of English learners and special education students. 

Many of Towns’ students do not have computers. While many students have cell phones where they make calls and play games, she would have to instruct them on how to use Zoom or any e-learning classrooms.

“A couple of the students that I work closely with have learning disabilities. I’m concerned. If I have to get them to pay attention when I’m in class and they are distracted, how are they doing at home?” Towns said. 

She is very worried about how students with autism are managing at home since their daily routine has been disrupted. 

“My biggest thing is that I wish I could get to them to help them with what they have to get done. But at 5 p.m. you have to be in the house,” she said.

“There isn’t much I can do right now.”