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An Illinois bill blocking testing for early learners clears committee

A young girl sit at a black desk in a classroom taking an exam with a yellow number two pencil. A teacher stands behind her monitoring the classroom. Other students are unfocused in the background taking the exam.

A bill that would prevent the Illinois state board of education from testing students in pre-kindergarten through second grade passed a House education committee Wednesday evening.

SDI Productions / Getty Images

The “Too Young To Test” bill that would prevent the Illinois state board of education from testing students in pre-kindergarten through second grade passed a House education committee Wednesday evening. If the bill clears the Senate and House, it will head to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his signature.

The progress of this bill comes as the Illinois state board of education plans to change the current end-of-year assessment, known as the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) for third to eighth grade to an interim assessment — an assessment that will test students three times a year — and an optional test for kindergarten to second grade assessment. The state already requires educators to complete a Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) within the first few months of school, but opponents of the plan worry that early learners could be required to take standardized tests in the future.

Samay Gheewala, assistant director of Illinois Families for Public Schools — the parent advocacy group that created the bill — testified during the state board of education’s monthly board meeting Wednesday calling for the board to stop any consideration of testing for young learners. 

“Assessment researchers, teachers, and early childhood experts all agree that data collected from standardized tests on children this young has almost no value for meaningful study of student achievement or school performance,” Gheewala said. 

Amanda Elliot, director of legislative affairs at the state board, said during the meeting the board has opposed the bill. She said,  “We are opposed to that legislation that would restrict the agency from offering those types of optional tests, not used for accountability.”

State assessments were also the focus of a survey released Wednesday by the Center for Assessment, a nonprofit organization that focuses on state assessment systems across the country, and has been working with the state board of education to help design a new assessment. Over 5,200 people responded to the survey that took place between December 2021 and the end of January 2022. Seventy percent of respondents were teachers and other classroom personnel, 20% were school administrators, 4% parents, 4% students and 2% others answered the survey.

Three-fourths of respondents said that they were not satisfied with the IAR and over 50% said that the assessment needed changes. Most participants had mixed feelings about using an interim assessment; they liked the idea of districts using their own interim assessments over the state’s readiness assessment and the state using data from local assessments for a summative designation to measure how well the schools are serving their students. Results were split on whether the state board of education should provide an optional kindergarten through second grade assessment. 

Currently, 70% of school districts use interim assessments for third to eighth grade that are administered multiple times throughout the year. Chicago Public Schools used to be one of those districts until it ended its contract with nonprofit NWEA last year to provide the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test. Brenda Dixon, chief research and evaluation officer at the state board of education, said Wednesday that if the state changes from an end-of-year assessment to an interim assessment, local school districts’ interim assessments would not be acceptable under federal law. The state can not allow districts to have a variety of assessments.

The state board of education and the Center for Assessment have been getting feedback through surveys and focus groups on a new design for the state assessment, but advocates have raised concerns about the state’s transparency during the process. 

During the public comments of the board meeting, Cindy Oberle-Dahm, a social studies teacher from Belleville West High School, questioned how the survey was administered and the number of parents who participated. 

“There was really only 4% of parents and we don’t know where those parents are from since demographic information was not included,” Oberle-Dahm said. “I fear that for our most vulnerable Black and brown students that we don’t know if their parents even had a chance to respond.” 

In addition to the survey, the Center for Assessment is currently working to analyze feedback from the eight focus groups and plans to provide the final report to the state board by March 28.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Brenda Dixon is the chief research and evaluation officer at the Illinois State Board of Education, not the director of data strategies and analytics.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at ssmylie@chalkbeat.org.

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