Comments on proposed new state testing system

The IL State Board of Education was set to approve a Request for Proposals for a $227M contract to start on July 1, 2021 to develop and administer a new state test for Illinois at its June board meeting. In response to organizing from teachers, parents and assessment experts, they announced a delay to the vote until at least August.

You can read more about the RFP here. And you can find a recording of the meeting here.

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Public comment at June 16, 2021 ISBE meeting

Hi, I’m Cassie Creswell and I’m speaking today on behalf of IL Families for Public Schools, a grassroots parent advocacy group that works on state level educational policy and legislation.

We are very concerned about the proposed change to the state testing system that the IL State Board of Ed is considering. And as we talk to parents, students, teachers, administrators and legislators in the IL General Assembly, they too are deeply concerned.

The overuse and misuse of standardized testing has had a negative impact on the quality of the educational experience for Illinois’ children for the last two decades and even further back in Title I schools.

Now in 2021, IL students are taking more standardized tests than ever---in some schools benchmark tests are given every 6 weeks, and interim testing is taking place in 70% of districts, but yet our NAEP scores as a state and nation have barely budged in the last decade.

Switching from one high-stakes summative test a year to three high-stakes interim tests is not the direction we should be going as a state. The experiment of rolling up three scores into a single score to be used for a school-level accountable rating is of dubious validity. And the education research literature simply does not support the claim that interim or benchmark tests lead to improved educational outcomes.

As Elaine Allensworth of the University of Chicago recently explained, interim tests are not better than a single summative, and they simply “can’t give you precise information on students’ skills in any given area.

To quote another assessment expert Lorrie Shepherd: “Because interim assessments offer little to no insight into the reasons why students are underperforming or how to help them, their use hasn’t been found to lead to improvements in teaching or learning.” For that we need local, teacher-designed formative assessment closely tied to curriculum.

As a parent of a child who experienced pre-k through second grade in Chicago Public Schools with more than a dozen tests administered during a school year, I’m especially concerned about the inclusion of state-funded interim testing for K-2. Standardized testing is not reliable for those early childhood years, and there is a reason the federal government left them out of their accountability regimens developed in the 1990s. Through-the-year testing is the opposite of what we know education for birth through age 8 should look like.

A major overhaul of the standardized testing system, especially one with a 10 year commitment and more than $200 million price tag, should be undertaken with maximum transparency and input from the public, from stakeholders in our public school system and from assessment experts who are fully abreast of the research and evidence on what standardized testing can and cannot do. 

This is a costly and not well-thought-out experiment, one that the state won’t even have federal approval of until long after a contract with a vendor is signed.

Until federal law is amended, Illinois has no choice but to do annual standardized math and reading testing in 3-8th. That said, our compliance with ESSA should be carried out in a way that recognizes the limitations of those tests rather than compounding them. On behalf of families around the state, please do not simply vote on this same RFP in August. What should be on the agenda instead is a vote on a *plan* to develop a balanced assessment system including a robust procedure for engagement of all the constituencies the system will affect. Creation of a RFP and a contract without this is putting the cart before the horse, and simply not a good way to do public policy.