Illinois political leaders begin to question value of ISAT, PSAE

It's not yet a chorus, but a growing number of Illinois political and educational leaders are beginning to question the value of the ISAT and PSAE state achievement tests. During the first week of March 2010, Illinois children were again taking the ISAT. High school students will take the PSAE next month. The question being asked in Illinois (and across the nation) is how much value there is in testing children so much, and how much testing is taking away from everything else that helps educate a child in public schools.

Here is one report, from "Statehouse News" (Illinois)

Students Taking ISAT’s, Leaders Question Test’s Worth March 3, 2010 by admin 
Filed under Featured Stories, By Benjamin Yount, Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD – Close to one million school children across Illinois have been huddling over their desks this week taking the ISAT exam. But leaders in Springfield are now wondering if all of that time, and the millions of dollars the state spends on the test, is worth it.

The Illinois Standands Achievement Test, or ISAT, is the test by which third- through eighth-graders, and their schools, are measured. The test also accounts for most of the $44.8 million Illinois spends on standardized testing each year.

Illinois State Superintendent Christopher Koch acknowledges the test is not the best measuring stick. But Koch said it's the only method Illinois has that satisfies the numerous state and federal requirements.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, said if that's the case, then why bother.

"Why is it that we are spending $45 million on assessments…I mean if it's a waste of $45 million, then why are we doing it."

The short answer is that Illinois has to. State lawmakers and leaders in Congress have created a number of mandates that require schools to prove they are teaching and that students are learning. The current "No Child Left Behind" legislation has become the most notorious example of such a federal program.

State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, said there is too much of an emphasis on one test, during one week. "There are formative ways to asses students and they are much more valuable than any test given one day of the year…We talk about best practice. Best practice is multiple assessments, with immediate feedback that you can use to shape teaching and learning. And the tests that we give that cost us the most money don't do that." Illinois' two tests, the ISAT for grade school students, and the Prairie State Achievement Exam for 11th graders are not even on the same page.

Koch said students may be doing well when they leave middle school, only to be considered behind according to high school standards.

"What does it mean to be proficient against the scale we are using for high school to be career and college ready? [That's] not well known. Not just in Illinois but nationally….Is it an ACT score of 18 that's good enough? Then you have to work backwards from that."

State Rep. Al Riley, D-Hazel Crest, said that only leads to more pressure to measure students, and less attention on teaching them.

"I think it's a waste of time, especially in some of our poorer districts where you talk about new ways of evaluating you that have absolutely no match with what is being taught, or what is not being taught in schools. And I think that's unfair."

Koch said the state could find other ways to measure learning in the classroom. But with a $12 billion deficit, massive proposed cuts to the education budget, and a laundry list of federal requirements, that is unlikely.

"There is very little assessment that we are doing beyond what the federal government requires because it is so expensive. [We have] one on the docket to reduce. But most of it [is being done] by a federal requirement."

Illinois will change the ISAT and the PSAE, but not soon. Koch said the legislature will likely adopt new learning standards in August. But those new standards won't be tested until 2013 at the earliest. Lawmakers say they could change some of the mandates that require such rigorous testing. But they're quick to point out that Illinois could lose hundreds of millions of federal dollars if the state takes that approach.


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