SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Board of Education is weighing whether to replace the state’s annual Illinois Assessment of Readiness standardized test for grades 3 through 8 with three separate tests spread out in a school year.
But teacher unions and education advocacy groups claim the proposed change would amount to more class time being dedicated to test preparation.
If implemented, the three tests would be delivered in the fall, winter and spring with scores from each combined into an overall student assessment.
Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said spreading out standardized tests throughout the school year would do very little to calm the nerves of students who battle with test anxiety.
Montgomery also said conflating a student’s cumulative test score to a score earned on a single, end-of-year exam goes against research on high-stakes testing.
“Testing experts are sort of scratching their heads saying, ‘Well, that sort of test doesn’t exist and you can’t just add up the interims and say that equals the summative assessment,’” Montgomery said. “You can’t expect a kid, say, in October to fully be able to do well on a test that’s testing material she’s going to learn from October to May.”
Montgomery said he isn’t against replacing the IAR test, as he believes it serves little utility for teachers since test scores aren’t released until after students matriculate to the next grade. But he said it would be better for assessments to be locally developed by school districts and assess deeper critical thinking skills.
However, Montgomery acknowledged federal standardized testing requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act are a major obstacle in testing reform.
“It’s a difficult needle to thread,” Montgomery said. “We have urged at every turn ISBE to ask the federal government for more dispensation and leeway on testing, which they’ve done a lot; they probably could do more.”
Montgomery also said there is a dissonance in Illinois in terms of the state’s views on testing, wherein while ISBE is considering increasing standardized tests, a proposal awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature would make submitting a standardized test score for college admissions optional.
“The SAT and the ACT are gatekeeper exams, that’s what they are, they’re college gatekeeper exams,” Montgomery said. “Trying to understand how well a student can do in college and where they are can also be done through — and probably more effectively — through their long term GPA and grades that they get in school, through looking at their entire application, their essays, their teacher recommendations and things like that.”
Although the IFT and other education groups encouraged their supporters to voice their disapproval of ISBE’s consideration of test replacement vendors ahead of their June 16 board meeting, ISBE spokesman Max Weiss said the proposal for a new interim assessment will not be included on the agenda.
“We are continuing to gather stakeholder feedback on how to improve this federally required assessment to make it a shorter, more useful, actionable, and equitable tool for teachers and families, which is our goal with this [request for sealed proposal],” Weiss said in a statement.
Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois’ graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.