Comments on proposed new state testing system

In April, the IL State Board of Education had on its agenda an approval of a Request for Proposals for a $227M contract to start on July 1, 2021 to develop and administer a new state test for Illinois. The test would be administered three times a year, not just once, and would cover K-2, not just 3-8th, which is what the federal government requires. The approval vote has been delayed until ISBE's June 16th meeting, but much of the pubic participation at this week's May ISBE meeting was devoted to comments on this RFP. Marty Gartzman spoke on behalf of IL Families for Public Schools.

You can read more about the RFP here. And you can watch a video of the meeting here. Sign up here if you want to stay in the loop on helping us push back against this proposal.

Public comment at May 19, 2021 ISBE meeting

Good morning.  I am Marty Gartzman, retired executive director and a senior associate at UChicago STEM Education at The University of Chicago. I am speaking this morning on behalf of Illinois Families for Public Schools, and we are speaking in opposition to the proposed RFSP for a new state assessment.

We believe that the proposed new assessment, if enacted, would wed Illinois to an assessment system that is fraught with problems. We urge you to slow down the process so that the many questions about the advisability of such an assessment can be carefully investigated and considered. 

Among the many questions are the following:

  • The through-test model of interim assessments was designed for one purpose but is being proposed for something radically different. Member’s of ISBE’s Technical Advisory Committee have raised a range of issues about the validity and appropriateness of using the tests in the ways proposed. 
  • There are questions about the advisability and impact of moving to three high-stakes tests each year instead of one, even if the total amount of testing time decreases.
  • There are significant concerns about how such tests will impact instruction, including concerns that they will result in a de-facto, dumbed-down curriculum that overemphasizes discrete, basic skills at the expense of applications and thinking.
  • There are questions about the purposes for which the data will be used and whether they are appropriate and valid. Will this strengthen or weaken our school accountability system?
  • Most importantly, it seems to ignore the experience of Illinois school districts, such as Chicago, Elgin, and Rockford, that implemented such an assessment model in the hope of improving student achievement but have seen both growth and achievement scores regress. 

We need to hear more from testing and assessment experts about the proposed model. 

Let’s hear more from CPS and other districts that saw disappointing results with a similar plan. 

Let’s hear the voices of administrators, teachers, parents, and school board members. 

And, emphatically, let’s not just talk about the assessment itself independently of how we plan to use the assessment data.

We can and should have a better assessment system that effectively captures what students know and promotes better teaching and better learing. This RFSP pulls the plug on rethinking assessment in Illinois and, instead, proposes a solution before the problem has been properly analyzed.