News on testing: Opt out season; test scores for sale; testing in voucher schools

Lots of news on testing in the last couple weeks: a long-awaited report on test scores from private schools getting vouchers, a new push from advocates to stop the College Board's sale of Illinois students' data, and, as state testing begins in public schools, find out how and why to opt out.

✶ It's testing (and opt out!) season again!

The IAR test of math and reading in 3rd-8th grade begins this week around the state. Here's our resources for families on how and why to refuse that test and other state tests:

I AM REFUSING: Opt Out Info 2024. Children and schools are more than a score

Unfortunately, Illinois still doesn’t have a statewide opt out policy or law that ensures students who refuse testing are not punished for doing so and that recognizes parents’ role in this decision. So, please reach out if you need assistance in the refusal/opt-out process: [email protected] or text/call 773-916-7794

IL-FPS has been advocating for less standardized testing and more thoughtful use of standard testing in public schools for many years, see here and here for example.

Far better—less harmful and more informative—ways of evaluating schools and students do exist. In fact, our state collects hundreds upon hundreds of data points on every school in addition to test scores that give a highly detailed quantitative picture of resources and outcomes on the school and district level.

While federal law mandating annual testing limits our state’s ability to make the most substantive changes—such as not testing every child, every year—Illinois could be following the lead of other states and pursuing improvements and innovations that would make annual testing less harmful to children’s educational experiences. For starters, we could be following the recommendations the national Center for Assessment made to our State Board back in spring 2022.

Until real reform happens, families should consider their child’s participation in this deeply flawed system thoughtfully, and, if they choose to refuse, schools should respect such a choice. There are a few bills on assessment in Springfield that could improve things if they get moving. We’ll keep you in the loop about advocacy opportunities as Spring Session progress.

✶ What’s standardized testing like in private schools that have been getting public dollars?

As you know, last fall, the General Assembly declined to take any action to extend Illinois’s voucher program, known as Invest in Kids, and the program will end after this school year. The state law that created the program required annual reports from the IL State Board of Education on the test scores of students receiving vouchers—they were to take the same state tests that public schools administer to their students.

Well, the first, final and only “annual” report from ISBE was released last week even though the program is in its sixth and last year.WestEd: Evaluation of the Invest in Kids Act: Final Report - January 2024 Overall, when compared with public schools students’ scores, voucher recipients in elementary school’s scores were lower. In high school, results were mixed (and were based on only a single year of data.)

But really, the biggest takeaway from this report is that it further makes the case that public dollars should only be for public schools that serve all kids. It is crystal clear when you read this report that there has been a severe lack of oversight, transparency and accountability in the Invest in Kids program—even though Illinois spent more than a quarter billion in tax dollars on it since 2018.

Read our full statement on the WestEd Evaluation of the Invest in Kids Voucher Program here.

The research organization that prepared the report, WestEd, couldn’t even find data on almost three dozen schools receiving voucher dollars. They also weren’t certain that all eligible students were tested. And the comparison of scores of voucher students and public school students didn’t take into account any student-level demographic information because researchers weren’t provided with it.

This Invest in Kids evaluation was primarily about test results, but also included some qualitative data on a handful of private schools. As mentioned above, there are major limitations and problems with relying only on standardized test scores to evaluate schools. However, it is worth noting that the extensive information we have on all public schools and public school students beyond test scores—including attendance; graduation rates; post-graduation outcomes; disciplinary data; class size; dual credit attainment; 5Essentials survey data from teachers, students and parents; school finances, both revenue and expenditures; and hundreds of other data points—none of that information has been publicly reported for the hundreds of private schools in Illinois receiving public funds through the Invest in Kids program.

✶ State test vendor is still selling our kids’ data

Illinois has one of the strongest laws in the country protecting the privacy and security of our public school students’ personal data. Unfortunately, a major state vendor is violating that law by selling student data.

Data For Sale!The vendor in question is the College Board, the maker of SAT, PSAT and Advanced Placement tests. They’ve been selling student data, including names, addresses, ethnicity and race, economic status, test score ranges, and other personal information since the early 1970s.

Public schools started giving college admissions exams (SAT and ACT) in school during the school day as part of federal testing requirements more than 20 years ago. And then, in the last decade, many states passed laws that forbid sale of data collected from students in schools, including Illinois’ Student Online Personal Protection Act (SOPPA), making what was an unethical practice clearly illegal, but the College Board has continued to sell student data in these states.

Last month, however, the New York Attorney General announced that they were cracking down on the student data sales in New York state. The College Board will no longer be able to sell New York students’ data and were ordered to pay a $750,000 fine. This is the first state to do so, and it happened after years of advocacy by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

We’ve been organizing to stop the College Board's data sales here in Illinois as well. Although sales are not permitted under SOPPA, the state’s current $54M contract with the College Board explicitly allows it!

State legislators asked the Illinois Attorney General to investigate this matter back in 2019, but nothing came of that.

Last week, IL-FPS and eight other organizations sent a letter to Illinois’ AG Kwame Raoul asking for him to enforce our state law and stop these sales here too. Illinois students should have the same protections as New York students have.

Logos of organizations that sent letter to IL AG about the College Board's data salesRead more details about what we're asking of the AG and why here.

The state's contract with the College Board ends this summer. And before another contract is awarded to the College Board, those sales should end.

We’ll have some action steps you can take on this issue soon! In the meantime, if this is an issue you’d like to get more involved with, please get in touch: [email protected]

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