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Letters to the Editor

ISBE to shove local schools off the testing ‘cliff’

Editor’s note: The following guest editorial exceeds the Bureau County Republican’s 500-word limit; therefore, the BCR will allow a reader’s opposing viewpoint to also exceed the word limit. Contact BCR Editor Terri Simon at 815-875-4461, ext. 229, before submitting.

Last week, school districts across the state received an email from Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch pertaining to the proposed increase in “cut” scores used for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) that is administered each spring to students in Grades 3-8. Cut scores are used to determine a range of scores necessary to assign a student an overall performance level of “exceeds standards,” “meets standards,” “below standards” or “academic warning,” in the areas of reading, math and science.

Superintendent Koch stated in his email to schools “the increase in performance levels will align our expectations for our Grade 3-8 students with the more rigorous standards of the new Common Core State Standards that are focused on college and career readiness.” ISBE staff has made it clear to districts the increase in cut scores is part of the transition to the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment that all schools will be required to administer beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

The impact of these new cut scores will be dramatic. Geneseo CUSD 228 staff applied the proposed new cut scores to third-grade math results from the 2012 ISAT tests. This would change the number of third-grade students who failed to meet state standards in math from 1 percent to 17 percent. Similar trends will be seen across all grade levels in districts across the state. ISBE has advised school administrators to prepare to have “tough” conversations with the many parents who will be alarmed their child is now performing “below” standards on the same state assessment that in previous years they earned a “meets” or “exceeds” designation. Essentially, Geneseo Schools will become part of a traditional “bell shaped curve” to inequitably sort and separate students, for purposes no one really seems to know.

ISBE acknowledges Illinois’ previous expectations for Grade 3-8 students did not align to the new Common Core State Standards that are now focused on success in college and the workforce. So, why are schools wasting valuable instructional time and resources by continuing to administer a test that fails to produce meaningful results?

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the transition from the ISAT to PARCC assessments and the increase in cut scores is the disregard how these changes will impact the children in our classrooms. Why are we subjecting thousands of children and teachers to the stress of ISAT administration for the next two years and the humiliation of a pre-determined course of failure on the ISAT? How do school staff and parents explain to a 9 year old their failure to meet state standards is to due to a statistical adjustment that will enable ISBE to avoid the public relations disaster of a dramatic drop in test scores with the new PARCC assessment? How do school administrators explain to their dedicated teachers that they are doing an outstanding job of working with children despite a dramatic downturn in test results?

Furthermore, we will continue to administer a test in the spring of 2013, called The Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), but this year it will contain 20 percent of the questions we will eventually see on the PARCC assessment, and 100 percent of the test questions in 2014 will be Common Core-type questions. So again, Illinois schools see a “double whammy,” this time in the form of assessment coupled with increased cuts in state funding. 

School districts across the state face historic cuts in state funding coupled with an overwhelming increase in state mandates, rules and regulations. The pace of these changes under the guise of “reforms,” has accelerated at the same time that schools face unprecedented budget deficits, due in part, to existing state mandates. This latest decision by ISBE illustrates the complete disconnect that has developed between the agency and the dedicated school administrators and teachers who work every day with the children in our school districts. It also represents a further erosion of the local control of duly elected school board members, who represent the very property tax owners who are paying an increasing percentage of the cost of education while the state abdicates its responsibility to fund our schools. Most importantly, it is not good for the children we serve.

Superintendent Scott D. Kuffel, Geneseo CUSD 228


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