Remarks at ISBE December board meeting on state assessment proposal

Public comment at December 15, 2021 ISBE meeting from Cassie Creswelll, IL-FPS director

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

I’m here again to express the serious reservations my organization has about the proposed changes to the state testing system for elementary school. What is being considered is expensive in dollars, time, logistics and stress. It is experimental in that the combination of scores from multiple administrations isn’t being used anywhere else in the country yet. 

37 legislators signed on to a letter delivered to you yesterday raising many concerns about this proposal and asking that you do your due diligence and  “engage and work collaboratively with education stakeholders across the state to research and co-create a balanced and humanizing assessment system that promotes deep, meaningful learning through rich, culturally relevant and challenging curricula.” We really hope you listen to them. 

If we want to reduce time devoted to testing, three administrations of high-stakes tests each year will surely not be an improvement over a single administration. There is a fixed cost in time and disruption every time high-stakes testing takes place---computer labs, libraries, teachers, esp special education teachers, are redeployed and schedules are reworked. Time spent testing means time not spent teaching and learning.

The State Assessment Review Committee has not been properly engaged in developing this proposal and has been stymied in their attempts to vet it.  They have been asking questions about what the research is that supports a system of through-year testing, but ISBE hasn’t provided answers. 

And the hard truth is that that evidence doesn’t exist. The assessment community---outside of commercial test vendors---haven’t found evidence that interim testing improves teaching or learning. Well-designed experiments have demonstrated this, and actual use of interim testing in Illinois public schools has as well. Chicago Public Schools has now dropped the use of interim testing, in this case NWEA MAP, because the gains in test scores prior to MAP being used as a high-stakes test disappeared. 

ISBE is finally engaging stakeholders, but that engagement began eight months after this plan was brought to the Board. And sending out a survey without real dialogue with the groups impacted by testing before a proposal was created is not authentic engagement. And the presentations to groups you are giving to stakeholder groups are 30 minutes without opportunity for feedback. 

Stakeholders are being surveyed on tweaking the design choices of a three-times-per-year testing system. This is putting the cart before the horse. Creation of a balanced assessment system, of which a summative test used for accountability purposes must be a part because of federal law, should be built from the ground up looking at what teachers and students need in the classroom and informed by what several decades of assessment experts have established about assessing what children know and can do. 

Illinois, like every other state, needs to test 3-8th graders once a year. The solution to what ails this system isn’t tripling down on assessments that can’t actually provide insight into what students need for day-to-day progress in the classroom. It is looking in close combination at what has succeeded elsewhere in and what is really missing at the classroom level. 

There are other options that should be on the table before hundreds of millions of dollars are committed to a format that research has already shown won’t get schools, teachers and students the results the state wants:

  • Supporting classroom teachers to truly make use of formative assessment; this means giving teachers time for professional development, collaboration and planning and schools funding for carrying this out. Pilot projects in several districts have borne out the benefits of such work
  • Maximizing the value of the information that the annual summative assessment generates. Large-scale summative tests have their limitations, but vendors can in fact provide results quickly if they sign a contract saying they will. And teachers, students and families can be shown actual questions and responses if the state is willing to pay a bit more for the test. 
  • Providing schools with low-stakes formative tests that exemplify the type of things that students should know and be able to do on the annual summative test. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium offers this in many states. Unlike PARCC, SBAC hasn’t been disbanded.

Interim, through-year systems are commercial gimmickry that sounds great but hasn’t panned out and won’t for our state either.