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Illinois educators, advocates, parents push back against state assessment proposal

Two students sit at a desk while taking an exam.

Illinois educators, advocates push back against the state’s proposal to increase the number of tests students take during school year.

Chalkbeat

Illinois educators, school advocates, and parents are calling on the Illinois state board of education to create an assessment system that responds to the needs of students, not one that increases the number of tests throughout the school year. 

The opposition comes as the board of education considers a plan to go from one end-of-year exam to a three-times-a year exam for Illinois students in third to eighth grade. The board also  contracted the Center for Assessment, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit, to collect feedback from school leaders, teachers, parents, and students on what they believe the state assessment should look like. 

At the board of education’s April meeting, the Center for Assessment presented results from the focus group, which included a recommendation to decrease the number of tests.

At a press conference Friday morning, the Illinois Federation of Teachers along with advocates, educators, and parents, spoke out against the plan, saying  it would further disrupt learning during the school year. In addition, speakers said, tests often do not relate to curriculum being taught in class and the results can come too late to impact what is being taught.

IFT president Dan Montgomery said testing has gone too far.

“It’s not helping children learn,” he said. “It’s not helping teachers teach. Especially right now with COVID, the need for students’ recovery is great and pressing.” 

Aaron Bingea, a 10-year teacher at Chicago Public Schools, said Chicago’s interim assessment known as the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, changed what students learned in class. In elementary schools, to prepare students for tests in an effort to boost reading and math scores, Bingea said schools lost instruction time in art, physical education, science, and social studies.

“Any momentum developed in your learning community that you work so hard for as a teacher is immediately broken every time you have to give a state test or a standardized test,” said Bingea.

The district ended its contract with the nonprofit NWEA, the creators of MAP, last year, and this is the first school year Bingea has not had to give high-level testing to students. He said he’s been able to figure out where students are based on the curriculum assessment he gives to students. 

Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-20), former state board of education member, said the “Too Young To Test” bill, which passed during the general assembly session, will prevent the state from developing, paying, or requiring districts to test students in kindergarten to second grade. It does not prevent schools from screening students for special education services or gifted programs.

“As legislators, we have the responsibility to lock arms with our educators, with our parents, with our community leaders about what is possible, ‘’ said Pacione-Zayas. “We need to reimagine and we need to recommit to that because we know that what happened in the past did not work.”

During April’s state board of education meeting, the Center for Assessment, which conducted a survey of over 5,200 school leaders, teachers, parents, and students, reported results from focus groups along with recommendations.

The focus groups were made up of over 90 participants divided into eight groups. According to data collected from the Center for Assessment, focus group participants were not supportive of a three-times-a-year testing model. They preferred for the state to support local assessments and provide professional development for educators. 

Focus groups participants also wanted the state to find a way to reduce testing time, so educators could focus more time on activities that support student needs. They also recommended shortening the time for school districts to receive results from the end-of-year test, currently known as the state Illinois Assessment of Readiness. 

Other recommendations from the focus groups, which expressed moderate support for developing voluntary interim assessments, included clarifying the purpose of existing or newly proposed assessments and advising the state not to rush into a new assessment system. 

At April’s board meeting, the Center for Assessment gave the board several recommendations for how it should proceed in trying to create a new assessment system. A few recommendations reiterated points made by survey participants and the focus groups, including suggesting that the state develop assessment supports and resources separate from accountability measures, develop criteria for “high quality” assessments, consider shortening the end-of-year exam, and speed up results.

The State Assessment Review Committee is expected to give its recommendations at the state board of education’s May or June monthly meeting. The board will then decide whether or not to submit a request for sealed proposals. 

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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