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CPS to cut back on standardized tests

Chicago high school students boycott school state test converge Chicago Board Educatimeetinng April. | JessicKoscielniak~Sun-Times

Chicago high school students boycott school, state test and converge on Chicago Board of Education meetinng in April. | Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 8, 2013 6:18AM

Chicago Public Schools officials are cutting back some of the standardized tests the district requires for students, especially for its smallest ones, freeing up more time for instruction and saving some money for the cash-strapped system in the process.

CPS, long under fire for excessive testing from parents, the teachers union and grassroots groups such as Raise Your Hand, said Tuesday it’s reducing the total number of CPS-mandated assessments.

But some of those stakeholders, while pleased at the reduction, are still troubled by how the remaining tests will be used to evaluate teachers and possibly entire schools.

Talks and more than a dozen focus groups organized with parents, Local School Councils, the Chicago Teachers Union and principals, prompted and guided the change, said Didi Swartz, CPS’ director of assessments.

Their common complaint?

“The amount of preparation that happened in classroom was really crowding out instructional time in preparation for high stakes standardized testing,” Swartz said.

Kindergartners, first graders and second graders no longer have to take the NWEA MPG (Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress for Primary Grades) test in spring and fall, though their schools must choose from a list of assessments to monitor these primary students’ literacy. Second graders will join third through eighth graders to take the NWEA MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test aligned to the Common Core curriculum in spring but no longer in the fall, too. Eighth graders will also skip the EXPLORE test given in preparation for the ACT in 11th grade. And ninth through 11th graders will also sit for the spring session of the EPAS (Explore, Plan, ACT) test, skipping a fall session.

Most of the reductions come from eliminating fall testing sessions, and leaving spring ones in place. The district, counting each grade given a test as one test, calls it a reduction by 15 tests from 25 last year to 10 starting in the 2013-14 school year. But overall, four tests out of nine required by the district have been eliminated: the MPG for K-2, the fall MAP session for 3-8, EXPLORE for 8th graders and the fall EPAS for 9-11.

State requirements aren’t affected, so all third through 8th graders will still take the state-required Illinois Standard Achievement test, 11th graders will take the Prairie State Achievement Examination, or in the cases of students with significant learning disabilities, the Illinois Alternate Assessment and of English Language Learners, the ACCESS test. Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said less testing — and prepping for tests — will mean more classroom time devoted to real teaching. It’ll also save some $2.4 million over last year’s budget for district-required standardized tests, projecting $8.3 million this year over last year’s $10.7 million, according to the district. It estimated another $4 million for K-2 literacy and math assessments the schools will choose, down from $4.7 million last year.

“What we are doing though was not a money issue when we were looking at this initially,” Byrd-Bennett said. “It was really about a best practice for kids and what gives teachers maximum instruction time and responding to the overwhelming cry by parents and teachers that this district in fact over tested youngsters.”

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, applauded the cutback in testing and Byrd-Bennett for really listening to teachers and schools before making any decisions.

“I had this discussion with Barbara very early in her tenure and she did agree there were too many tests -- that’s the good news,” Lewis said.

“Our concern is not even the number of tests. ... Our concern is what are the tests being used for. Tests are being used for purposes they weren’t designed for.”

Some of the tests come with high stakes for kids promotions’ and for teachers’ employment, she said.

The More Than A Score collaborative, including the Raise Your Hand parent group, petitioned and helped parents figure out how to legally opt their children out of some of these tests last year. A handful of parents did keep their children home on some testing days.

Raise Your Hand director Wendy Katten also was concerned at how CPS could use the NWEA test, though glad that the district’s youngest students won’t be tested as much as before.

According to a draft CPS showed her Monday of their proposed performance policy — a draft the press office declined to release to the Sun-Times Tuesday, citing its draft status — the NWEA will replace the ISAT to help determine a school’s rating, which in turn could contribute to district decisions about a school’s future. And Katten wondered how many of the tests schools may choose from to help them guide teaching will actually be optional, saying “We will wait and see.”


Twitter: @bylaurenfitz

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