In the decades since the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, much of the rhetoric around K-12 school performance and student academic achievement is centered around the percentage of students labeled as meeting or exceeding standards on state standardized tests. This percentage is often misinterpreted as the percentage of children scoring at or above grade level.Read more
It’s been an entire year since the State Superintendent brought to the IL State Board of Education a proposal for revamping the state standardized test system by increasing 3-8th grade math and reading testing to three times per year rather than just once and adding optional tests for K-2 as well.
The K-2 part of the proposal will be blocked if Governor Pritzker signs SB 3986, the Too Young To Test bill, which was sent to his desk on April 29th. But the proposal for 3-8th grade is still on the table.Read more
Hundreds of bills are introduced in Springfield every session. Here's some of the bills that we'll be supporting or following closely during the spring 2022 session of the 102nd IL General Assembly. (This is an unusually short session that is scheduled to end April 8th instead of May 31st; there's a smaller volume of legislation under consideration than in a typical year.)
Too Young to Test HB 5285 / SB 3986- [Fact Sheet] This bill would prohibit state developing, funding or requiring standardized testing before 3rd grade with exceptions for assessment for diagnostic and screening purposes, federally-required tests for English-language learners, the KIDS observational assessment tool that the state requires in kindergarten and tests paid for with local/district dollars. The federal government has never included K-2 in its regimen for annual math and reading tests; this is because large-scale standardized testing is not a valid or reliable measure of what children under 8 years know and can do. Expanding the state testing system into PreK-2nd grade shouldn't even be an option; this legislation would protect those grades from that encroachment going forward.
Other bills we support
Earned Income and Child Tax Credit HB 4920 Expands and modernizes the earned income credit, which will especially help low- and middle-income families with children, including adding credit for unpaid caregivers. The failure of the Fair Tax amendment on the ballot in November 2020 means that Illinois' tax system is still deeply regressive. Those who can pay the least, pay the most, and we can't increase revenue without hurting those who can least afford to pay. Advocacy orgs from around the state, including IL Families for Public Schools, are partnering with the Cost of Living Refund Coalition to ameliorate the effects of IL’s regressive tax policies with tax credits for lower-income brackets to offset the impact of a flat tax, including supporting this legislation. Read more about the legislation the coalition is advocating for here.
Limit 3-8th grade testing to once/year - HB 5149 [Fact Sheet] Prohibits the IL State Board of Education from requiring more than annual math and reading testing in grades 3rd-8th. The federal government only requires annual testing in 3rd-8th grades in math and reading, but the ISBE would like to increase this to three times per year.
Better School Lunches HB 4813 This bill allows school districts to select a food service contractor based on factors other than the lowest bid. Illinois is one of only two states where districts are forced to pick the lowest bid. Read more about this bill here.
Important news from the IL State Board of Education last night, no federally-mandated testing for 2021 will take place in Illinois until at least March 15.
This is a big deal. Despite the fact that states have begun to request waivers for 2021 tests, the outgoing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said none will be granted. The incoming Biden administration has not yet said where they stand on a moratorium on standardized testingRead more
Laws and policies at the federal, state and local level have attached high-stakes consequences to standardized test scores for students, teachers and schools. The resulting overuse and misuse of standardized testing harms children and schools. It distorts both teaching and learning in the classrooms. High-stakes testing negatively affects children's emotional and mental health. It's narrowed curriculum and educational experiences. And it is used as a lever to under-resource, punish, and close schools in the very communities most in need of educational resources. Families who want to take direct action to oppose the misuse of standardize testing can refuse to allow their children to participate in these tests.
Although the federal government says public schools must administer certain tests, it does not say that every child, against their and their families wishes, must participate in the testing. Although the Illinois State Board of Education does not recognize parents' right to opt children out of testing, they have said districts can develop a policy for those students who refuse testing.
We recommend notifying the school ahead of time that your child will be refusing state testing and requesting info on how the school is planning for students who refuse to test. We have sample language and an FAQ on refusing state tests here. If you have questions, you can call or text us 773-916-7794 or email [email protected].
Fair Test, a national advocacy group, has extensive background and resources on how and why to opt out here and on the problems with high-stakes standardized testing that motivate families to refuse testing here.
Here's our explainer on what state test scores can and can't measure: "What do state test scores measure?"
If you are concerned about the impact of standardized testing on children and schools, make sure you are on our mailing list to receive updates about testing-related policy and legislation.
Background on federal and state testing requirements
Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) almost two decades ago and now under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal government has required all public schools in the United States to administer annual testing in reading and math from 3rd to 8th grade and once in high school and science testing three times across 3rd through 12th grades. English-language learners' proficiency is assessed every year (on top of these other tests in academic subjects, which are administered regardless of a student's fluency in English.)
States can choose which tests to administer to fulfill these requirements. The state pays for federally-mandated testing with state and federal funds. The results of these tests are used as factors in the state's school tier rating system.
For 3rd-8th grade math and reading, Illinois previously used ISAT, then PARCC, and now they use a test that is a slightly shorter version of PARCC, the Illinois Assessment of Readiness or IAR.
After many years of administering ACT, and then briefly PARCC, Illinois now requires high schools to administer the SAT to all 11th graders to comply with the federal requirement for annual testing in high school. Illinois is now also requiring districts to administer PSAT in 9th and 10th grade. (Read about our concerns with how the vendor for the SAT and PSAT is selling student data here.)
For science, Illinois uses the Illinois Science Assessment; this year it will be administered in grades 5th, 8th and 11th.
Students with the most severe cognitive disabilities take neither IAR nor SAT, but instead take an alternative assessment the DLM.
Finally, English-language learners from K-12 are given the ACCESS test to assess their proficiency and need for services as emerging bilingual students.
The state uses these scores as factors to assign a rating of your school's performance (Tier 1-4). Refusal/opt out affects your school’s state rating in two ways. Schools that do not have at least 95% participation will not be able to receive the top rating (“Exemplary” or Tier 1) from the state, and after three years in a row under <95%, schools may be assigned a Tier 3 rating (“Underperforming”).
Also, students who refuse are counted as not having met expectations (even though there's no obligation under federal law to do so). Crucially though, since changes in the federal law passed in 2015, a low rating is not tied to punitive policies but to additional funding for things like improving curriculum or climate. (See p. 84 here.) And note that after many years of mass opt out across the country, the federal government has still never penalized any state or district for low participation rates.
How to find out what testing is taking place at your child's school
The first step in pushing back against the misuse and overuse of standardized testing is knowing what testing is taking place. State law requires each public school to report to the IL State Board of Ed and to parents:
- which tests are to be given;
- when they’ll be given and how long they’ll take;
- who is requiring the tests (i.e. state, district, etc);
- which students will take the tests and
- finally, if the results of the test are to be used for purposes other than for guiding instruction, what they’ll be used for, such as promotion, course placement, graduation, teacher evaluation or school ratings.
If your school hasn't sent this information home or posted it online by the 30th day of school, ask your principal to provide it. Some testing is required by federal or state law, but much is at the discretion of districts and schools. Here's the most recent schedule for 2022 state-mandated testss.
High-stakes attached to testing for the students themselves in elementary school is rare in Illinois outside of Chicago Public Schools. In public high schools, students must take the SAT in order to receive a diploma. Check with your school and district administrators and ask for documentation in writing of how test scores will be used; it is their legal obligation to provide you with this information.
You can also check whether your school has provided the IL State Board of Ed with this information via the ISBE website. If the info sent to ISBE seems inaccurate or is missing, let your elected school board or local school council know that your school is out of compliance with state law.
Legislation on testing
Check our legislation page for current testing-related legislation that we are supporting or opposing.
Unfortunately, there are currently no bills to clarify parental rights around opting children out of state-mandated standardized testing. In the past, we have supported bills (like this one in 2018). Under that legislation, parents would be able to notify schools in writing that their child was opting out of any state-mandated standardized testing. The child would be provided with an alternative educational activity during test. There would be no negative consequences for students, families, teachers, administrators, schools or districts. A law like this especially needed to protect children who are not capable of refusing testing themselves but who are directly harmed by participating in testing.
- FairTest: Info about opt out, national and state policy on testing, test-optional college admissions and more, e.g. an explanation of how schools and districts will not lose funding no matter how many students opt out: "Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School"
"Taking Stock: Achievement in Illinois Under NCLB" (2016, Center for Urban Ed Leadership at UIC): Research comparing PARCC to ISAT and NWEA MAP from the Center for Urban Ed Leadership at UIC: "Once cut scores are removed from the mix, achievement patterns on the ISAT, NAEP, ACT and most other standardized tests look remarkably similar. The same is true for recently published results from the 2015 PARCC exam. All of these tests predict each other’s results with high levels of accuracy."
"The Fraud of Computer Scoring on the Common Core Exams" (2016, National Education Policy Center) Describes the problems with computer scoring of written responses. All answers on IAR tests are scored by computers, including essays and extended responses. Computers rely on superficial features and statistical patterns to score answers and cannot meaningfully evaluate high-level thinking skills.