School leaders statewide say no to standardized tests this spring

Teaching students in a constantly evolving environment of remote and hybrid in-person instruction, while ensuring they don't regress in learning, is challenging enough for schools.

Adding the stress of administering standardized tests with pandemic constraints isn't the best use of teachers' time, say suburban educators who are seeking a federal exemption from spring assessments.

Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders is leading the charge, getting 681 other superintendents from across the suburbs and state to sign onto a Feb. 8 letter requesting a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. An official response from federal authorities is pending.

Sanders said students already are struggling with pandemic learning loss and it would be difficult to lose another week of instruction to administer standardized tests in person, when most students are learning remotely and families don't want them in school buildings.

“We have all sorts of other assessment data that we could share with the state and feds. I don't need this test,” Sanders said.

Federal law mandates schools to administer in-person standardized tests to 95% of students to meet accountability requirements. States were granted waivers from having to administer summative assessments last school year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not much has changed with the virus' proliferation since then. Administering tests at this time puts an undue burden on schools when 53% of families have chosen to stay in remote learning mode this semester due to concerns over COVID-19 community transmission rates, Sanders said.

Last week, the Biden administration said states must administer federally required standardized tests this year to measure the pandemic's impact on learning, but offered some flexibility, including inviting states to apply for waivers and not holding schools accountable for the results. States also could give shorter, remote, or delayed versions of the exams, according to the directive.

Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala is backing superintendents' request for a complete test waiver. Data show 77% of the state's 852 school districts are offering some in-person instruction, yet more than 1 million students have been learning in fully remote environments since last March, she said.

“Because so many of our students have been separated from their schools since March, we believe that bringing students back in-person only to immediately begin state testing will have a detrimental effect on the goals of supporting their social-emotional well-being, mental health, and reconnection with the school community,” Ayala wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education. “Fewer than 200 Illinois school districts serving less than 200,000 students are currently able to provide fully in-person instruction to all students.”

Education leaders say local assessments offer a better measurement of students' progress and the ability to demonstrate knowledge and mastery.

“Standardized tests have never been valid or reliable measures of what students know and are able to do, and they are especially unreliable now,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said.

The Illinois Assessment of Readiness assessments in English language arts and mathematics — administered in spring to all third- through eighth-graders — isn't of much use to teachers because the results come out in late October.

“The timeline in which we get the (results) back is so late that it's not actionable data,” said Fred Heid, superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit Community Unit District 300. “We would literally have to shut down school for two and a half weeks just to test our kids. I just don't see parents finding any value whatsoever in that process. Every school has progress monitoring and research-based assessments. The goal for us is to identify where the gaps are and if our ongoing progress tools are identifying where the learning loss is.”

Tony Sanders
Fred Heid
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