June 10, 2016

A new law that is an important step toward testing transparency

During testing season it’s common to hear student comments like: “Again? Didn’t we just take a test?” I’m hearing this more and more frequently over the past few years, as my students sit through an ever-growing number of tests. My heart breaks a little each time my students voice their frustration, not just because I see the many hours of testing causing my students to become disengaged, but also because I worry about how many hours of instruction they are losing.

These days my special education students participate in an alphabet soup of standardized testing, participating in REACH Performance Tasks, the NWEA, ANET, and PARCC. While some are useful in tracking my student’s growth, others are repetitive or poorly matched to my students’ needs.

The good news is that Illinois has just passed a new law that I believe will be an important first step to balancing our desire to track students’ progress while also providing them with the class time they need to grow academically. HB 5901, introduced in the House by Representative Will Guzzardi and sponsored in the Senate by Senator Iris Martinez, requires every public school principal and the Illinois State Board of Education to provide transparency on how many tests students are taking and how the results are being used.

Like most teachers, I believe regular assessments can be a valuable tool to help teachers, students and their parents gauge what students know and are able to do, as well as the areas in which they need special attention. At the same time, we have to be mindful not to let measuring learning crowd out actual learning.

Starting January 1, 2016, the following must be shared with the public within 30 days of the start of the school year:

  • Which entity is requiring the assessment (state, school district, network, or principal).
  • Which grade levels will be taking the assessment.
  • Which subsets of students, such as English Learners and special education students, will be taking the assessment.
  • An estimate of the average time it will take a student to complete the assessment.
  • How the results of the assessment will be used (student promotion, course placement, graduation, teacher evaluation, or school performance ratings.)

This testing audit will ensure that principals and the State Board clearly communicate their assessment plans so that the public – especially parents – can better understand when, how, and why students are being tested. Sharing this information broadly will hold our state and our schools accountable for having well-thought-out assessment plans with our students’ needs at their core.This much-needed transparency around student testing will also help schools and districts to learn best practices from one another about how best to gather the data educators need without sacrificing the instruction time so vital to student learning.

Gabrielle Pike is an E4E-Chicago member and a Learning Behavior Specialist inclusion teacher, grades six through eight at Burr Elementary.