Public school students in Illinois would take state tests every year from the 3rd through 11th grades under a plan backed by the state board of education. Part of a broader assessment-and-accountability plan, the proposal would help poor schools and save money for districts, state leaders say.
The plan, which was adopted by the board Oct. 19 and now must be approved by the legislature, would also change state guidelines for bolstering failing schools.
Under the board’s proposal, the state would not intervene in schools unless two-thirds or more of their students failed the state tests, rather than the current failure rate of 50 percent. Such intervention could range from auditing a district to removing its school board or closing a school.
State officials said the proposal on failing schools would roughly halve the number of such schools targeted for intervention, to about 350. But they insisted the change would help the neediest schools by freeing state resources to focus on turning them around.
State schools Superintendent Glenn W. “Max” McGee presented that proposed package as way to close a yawning performance gap between poor and middle-class students.
“This is intolerable,” Mr. McGee said. “Unless you have an annual test, we’re not giving [schools] the information they need to put through school improvement plans.”
State education leaders also said the plan would save the state’s 892 school districts millions of dollars each year. Not needing to buy tests like the popular Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, school systems could focus on other spending goals, they said.
The package, which state officials said would require an additional $58 million annually, would require Illinois public school students to take many more standardized tests than they do now. Currently, the state tests students in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th grades. Starting in April, 11th graders will take a five-subject test.
Besides that test, students would take state exams in reading, writing, and mathematics in the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades; in reading, math, social studies, and science in the 4th and 7th grades; and in reading and math only in the 6th, 9th, and 10th grades, under the plan approved by the board, which the state hopes to put in place in 2002.
Modeled on similar testing regimes in Florida and Texas, the plan builds on what state school leaders have done over the past few years. It was only a year ago that students were first required to take the state’s current battery of tests, called the Illinois Standard Achievement Test, which replaced the Illinois Goals Assessment Program.
Too Much Testing?
The new tests in reading, writing, and math would last 40 minutes each, and most would be multiple-choice. Mr. McGee said state officials would decide later which test to use.
Critics of the plan said it would test students too often, taking up precious classroom time.
Already, Illinois has a law under which a student can take no more than 25 hours’ worth of standardized tests in his or her school career. Lee Milner, a spokesman for the state education department, said the legislature would have to change that law to allow time for the proposed testing.
Some Illinois school administrators endorse the idea of annual testing, but remain wary of how it might be run. Superintendent James T. Rosborg of the Belleville District 118, who voted for the proposal as part of a 22-member state study commission appointed by Mr. McGee, said he worried in particular about state leaders’ frequent replacement of tests.
“I will support this change as long as they make a long-term commitment to it,” said Mr. Rosborg, whose district enrolls some 3,600 pupils. “They’ve got to quit switching tests every other year.”
Under the plan, the state would spend $26 million more annually to aid impoverished schools. The so-called targeted interventions could include overseeing a school’s budget and imposing such penalties as reassigning administrators and closing a school.
Last spring, Mr. McGee commissioned the 22-member panel composed of teacher’s union leaders, administrators, and business officials to consider a proposal for annual state testing. In late September, the panel reported in favor of the plan.
Mr. McGee said his next step is to hit the road to promote the plan. He said he would meet with education and civic groups over the next several months in advance of the legislative session that begins in January.