Lawmakers concerned about plan to increase frequency of standardized tests

Thirty-seven Illinois state lawmakers are asking the state education board to apply due diligence before voting on a new, multimillion-dollar standardized testing system.

In a letter to the Illinois State Board of Education, lawmakers question a $228 million proposal to replace the annual Illinois Assessment of Readiness, which tests students' math and reading proficiency in third through eighth grades each spring, with an assessment that would be taken three times a year. The proposal includes optional testing for students in kindergarten through second grade three times yearly.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala brought the proposal to the state board in April as part of her goal to overhaul the state's standardized testing system. But a final vote has been pushed back. Some educators believe testing students multiple times during a school year is a better measure of growth and progress than a one-time test.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about over-testing students, particularly in low-income Black and brown communities, and expanding testing to the early grades. Their letter will be delivered to Ayala and the board ahead of its Wednesday meeting.

"ISBE cannot make such consequential decisions without being responsive to the input of students and families who will be directly affected. Nor should ISBE ignore the research, expertise and experience of educators and administrators. Any new system of assessment must have a clear evidence base in research," it reads.

Among its signatories are Democratic state Sens. Robert Martwick of Chicago and Karina Villa of West Chicago and Democratic state Reps. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview, Barbara Hernandez of Aurora and Joyce Mason of Gurnee.

Villa, a former school counselor, said increasing testing could be detrimental to students, particularly minorities, coming off 19 months of social isolation and pandemic-affected schooling.

"The amount of testing that teachers have to prepare students for, this just isn't working for our Black and brown communities," Villa said. "During COVID, the Latino and Black communities were devastated ... right now, if we don't re-imagine what the future of education is going to look like, it's going to be detrimental for future generations of our students."

Villa is concerned about expanding testing into the early grades, especially when low-income minority students often are at a disadvantage and underprepared for entering kindergarten.

"There is still a sore lack of opportunity for early childhood education," said Villa, adding that communities with large minority populations, such as West Chicago, have families on waitlists to get into early childhood programs.

"This year we had students who started first grade without ever having stepped foot into a classroom before," she said.

The State Assessment Review Committee, an independent body statutorily charged with providing recommendations to the education board and General Assembly on state testing, hasn't had enough time to weigh in on the state's proposed changes, according to the letter.

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