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Teachers unions push State Board of Education to reduce testing for elementary school kids

Educators say that standardized testing takes class time away from meaningful instruction.
Educators say that standardized testing takes class time away from meaningful instruction.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers is working with partners in hopes of swaying the Illinois State Board of Education away from instituting more standardized testing in elementary schools.

The Teach Not Test initiative is comprised of stakeholders including Illinois Federation of Teachers (a group of teachers unions), Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Families for Public Schools, Raise Your Hand, the Learning Association of Illinois, and the Center for Urban Education Leadership. The coalition is opposing a proposal being considered by ISBE to change yearly standardized testing in elementary schools to “interim assessments,” which involves shorter tests three times per school year.

“The word ‘assessment’ suggests that we are legitimately assessing useful things for kids and acting on assessment. Right now, we have a testing regime that has gone too far, and is not helping children learn,” said IFT president Dan Montgomery.

IFT hosted a webinar last week to raise awareness for the initiative. It was moderated by IFT’s Director of Union Professional Issues, Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith.

Redeaux-Smith explained Teach Not Test’s goal: “We don't want to just decrease the amount of time of the end-of-the-year tests. We want to decrease the amount of testing, period.”

Panelists included Paul Zavitkovsky from the Center for Urban Education Leadership, Chicago Public Schools teacher Aaron Bingea, East St. Louis teacher Olivia Coleman, Blackburn College Professor Dr. John Essington, and Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago.

Zavitkovsky works with principals and school administrators to determine the most appropriate assessments for each school’s students. He said he believes that if tests will be used to measure learning and determine funding for a school, the tests should be set by the teachers.

“There are some kinds of assessments that only teachers can do, that you simply cannot outsource to commercial vendors and hope that you can somehow shortcut the process,” said Zavitkovsky.

Essington works with college students pursuing a degree in education, and he agreed that focusing on one test set by the state is not an accurate measure of a student’s progress.

“We want our teaching students to focus on the growth and the mastery that students perform over the course of an entire year, instead of just one day and one testing program,” said Essington.

Another of Teach Not Test’s concerns with ISBE’s proposal is that it could open the door for standardized testing in kindergarten through second grade. Lawmakers, however, are already working to prevent this from taking place.

The legislative push to prevent testing for the youngest elementary schoolers was led by Pacione-Zayas, who was a teacher herself. She resigned because of what she was seeing in schools.

“I wrote my letter of intent to leave that position while I was proctoring a test, because I said ‘I will no longer be complicit in this process,’” said Pacione-Zayas.

Pacione-Zayas was the primary sponsor of the “Too Young To Test” bill in the current General Assembly, which passed both chambers. It awaits Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature to become law.

Even though ISBE’s current testing contract does not end until 2025, Teach Not Test advocates say that a post-COVID-19 world is the perfect time to reinvent standardized testing. After two years of disrupted learning, they say, there should be a better way to evaluate learning.

“The part of the brain that registers trauma and stress is the same part of the brain that is responsible for learning memory and comprehension. And what we have to grapple with is that every single child, adult and young person has experienced a certain level of trauma throughout this pandemic,” Pacione-Zayas said.

Teach Not Test is looking for community input to create a case against standardized testing to present to ISBE when the Board moves to select a contract for future assessment.

The Illinois State Board of Education has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.