Illinois educators excluded from test of change

A plan to change the state of Illinois assessment was criticized Tuesday by principals, testing experts, educators and students who said the process had not been transparent.

Illinois will spend about $ 42 million this school year on multiple tests to assess reading, math, and science skills – and for some students, English – but the roughly $ 20 million it spends each year on Illinois readiness assessment is under intense scrutiny. . The state superintendent is now pushing for a different test that would be administered three times a year and include an optional K-2 test.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the assessments and data available to states and school districts to assess learning loss.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala told a public hearing on Tuesday that her goal was to reduce the time students take the exam to no more than 50 minutes in math and English. Ayala also called the need to change the state’s assessment a fairness issue, as not all school districts have money to spend on their own assessments.

“A lot of our school districts use local dollars for these types of year-end assessments, but other districts can’t afford it,” Ayala said. “It’s a question of fairness. Making them available at the state level would save district funding and increase access. ”

The board said in September it heard from stakeholders that they wanted a review that was relevant to their curriculum and teaching, provided data to schools in a timely manner, and provided quality testing to all school districts.

But some critics of the effort have said it doesn’t make financial sense for the state to contract with a new testing provider when it has an existing contract until 2025; that the process was not transparent; and that increasing the frequency of testing would be a burden on educators and school leaders.

Paula Barajas, a special education teacher for years in Chicago public schools and a member of the State Assessment Review Board (SARC), a group tasked with reviewing the content and design of assessments, said that the committee had received no information from Ayala regarding the plans. change the current rating system.

“The reconstituted SARC has not been a functional committee, in my opinion,” Barajas said. “I believe I can say this because I have served on other ISBE committees.”

The state council said at the September council meeting it would hold eight stakeholder feedback sessions from September to November, but advocates pointed out on Tuesday that the state has yet to hold such discussions. .

Educators have complained that the current ARI, which districts give out in the spring, does not produce data quickly enough and that schools only receive results when students have moved on to the next class. As a result, the majority of school districts use an intermediate test to examine students three times a year to track their academic progress.

Kyle Thompson, regional superintendent for regional education office # 11, said the test is ineffective, tires educators and students, and does not provide useful data.

Thompson called for less testing and said the state should give “tests that you can get instant feedback on” so schools can act faster to meet student needs.

Chicago was one of those districts that relied heavily on interim evaluations with rapid returns until this summer, when it terminated its contract with the nonprofit NWEA, which provides the test of measurement of academic progress (MAP). Schools can now opt for two new assessments: part of the Skyline Universal Curriculum that the district rolled out last July – which is currently optional – and a collection of Star 360 quick assessments available in English and Spanish.

This change means that for Chicago, the state assessment will remain the only test that all elementary and high school campuses will administer consistently – and therefore the only one that offers a more panoramic picture of how students in the district. do academically compared to their peers elsewhere in the state.

District educators and board members said Chicago relied too much on the MAP to measure student growth and guide instruction, but also to assess teachers and principals and to score schools. . In 2019, the district inspector general investigated concerns about irregularities in the way some schools administered the MAP, such as giving students an indefinite time frame to complete tests.

Paul Zavitkovsky, evaluation specialist at UIC’s Center for Urban Education Leadership, used the MAP as a warning to state education officials. Prior to 2013-2019, Chicago experienced growth between grades three and eight. When the district moved to MAP, that growth disappeared.

As the state council considers other assessment systems, Zavitkovsky says he should ask himself, “What do the districts want?” Why can’t the state do whatever the district wants? And what kinds of assessments can only be done locally by classroom teachers? “

Some educators and experts have also said that the MAP is not tied closely enough to district curricula and, to some extent, to state learning standards. This made it so useful in helping educators tailor instruction to student needs.

Mila Koumpilova and Cassie Walker Burke contributed to this report.

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