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

It’s state testing season (again!) The window for the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, 3-8th grade testing in reading and math, opens March 4th. The Illinois Science Assessment window also opens March 4th. Weeks of ACCESS testing for English-language learners is just wrapping up. High school students will be assessed on the PSAT and SAT later this month and next.

Public schools are obligated to give these tests under state and federal law, but aside from the SAT, which is required in order to receive a diploma in Illinois, students are not obligated to participate. 

We have information about how to refuse state testing here. It’s specific to the IAR, but the procedure is similar for any state test. Contact us if you need more information. 

Districts may be attempting to (inappropriately) attach high-stakes consequences for refusing to test. Do your research beforehand to ascertain exactly what schools or districts are using test results for. Under state law, families should have access by the 30th day of school to a detailed assessment calendar, listing what standardized tests are administered when and what the results will be used for. That document should make clear whether there will be any specific consequences for a student who refuses testing.

Schools may use a standardized test as a component of identifying students for accelerated placement, but it is NOT obligatory, and we encourage parents to advocate for placement and identification policies that are not designed to pressure students into taking the state test by using it as a factor for admission into certain courses, etc. The IAR, ISA, PSAT and SAT are not tests designed to be valid measures of a student’s preparation or readiness to take a particular course.

Why we support opt out

Illinois Families for Public Schools worked with a coalition of organizations which successfully stopped a proposal by the Illinois State Board of Education to increase state testing in 2022. Since then, this coalition has continued to advocate for improvements to be made to the IAR, in particular, based on recommendations in a report commissioned by ISBE by the Center for Assessment.

This hasn’t happened. The fundamental issues with IAR haven’t been resolved. Results are still of little practical value to classroom teachers, families and students despite the massive time, energy and dollars that IAR administration absorbs each year. Much of the variation in scores across groups of students can be accounted for by socioeconomic factors outside of school control. Emphasis on standardized test scores distorts the curriculum and instruction in public schools for the worse, a problem that impacts student populations inequitably. Moreover, for many students, the actual testing experience itself is (needlessly) stressful and directly harms their well-being.

Better—less harmful and more informative—ways of evaluating schools and students exist. 

While federal law requiring 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: Tests could be shorter. Results could be provided immediately. Questions and answers could be made public. Assessments could more closely reflect what students are expected to learn and do. And the role of the tests in rating and ranking schools could be de-emphasized.  

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.  

Reach out if you need assistance in the refusal/opt-out process: [email protected] or text/call 773-916-7794

For more information about what state test scores are actually measuring currently, you can read our explainer piece here.