May 16, 2001 2 min read

Practices Challenged: Nine testing and education experts have labeled Chicago’s use of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to make critical decisions about students and schools “fundamentally flawed.”

Their statement, issued April 30, the first day of testing in the 432,000-student system, argues that this spring’s test results cannot be used fairly to judge whether students should be promoted or sent to summer school, and whether schools should be penalized for year-to-year variations in test averages.

Those experts cite what they see as the major problems with the way Chicago uses the ITBS.

First, they say, the version of the test being given this spring has been administered six times before in the past six years, including the same reading passages and mathematics problems. The repeated opportunities for school staff members to learn the exact questions on the test “fundamentally” undermines the accuracy of any results, the critics contend.

In addition, they note, the test is not “systematically” focused on the learning standards required by the Illinois board of education or the Chicago public schools. That makes the use of the tests for high-stakes decisions inappropriate, they say.

One alternative, they suggest, is the Evaluation Report for Assessment and Accountability, prepared by a coalition of Chicago educators and school improvement groups. Under the plan, use of the ITBS would end, and the Illinois achievement tests would become one of a set of tools for judging the progress of students and schools.

Phil Hansen, the chief accountability officer for the school system, said three forms of the ITBS are currently available, “and we alternate each one each year, ... so it’s not like we’re using the same test over and over.” He also said that the district was committed to using the state achievement tests “when the state gets all the kinks worked out.”

Joining in the statement were: Gerald W. Bracey, writer and research psychologist; Richard Figeuroa, education professor, University of California, Davis; Gene V. Glass, education policy- studies professor, Arizona State University; Walter Haney, education professor, Boston College; Clifford Hill, language and education professor, Teachers College, Columbia University; Ernest House, education professor, University of Colorado at Boulder; Donald Moore, executive director, Designs for Change, Chicago; Gary Orfield, education and social- policy professor, Harvard University; and Robert Sternberg, psychology professor, Yale University.

—Lynn Olson

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 2001 edition of Education Week