New Illinois accountability system: 1/2 star (Not Recommended)

Photo by Sarah-Ji Fotografa

The Tribune’s Diane Rado writes a very disturbing story this morning about the Illinois State Board of Education’s proposed new state standardized tests and rating system for schools.

She’s looked at the state’s 90 page waiver request and the 500-plus page attachment to the US Department of Education which asks for permission for Illinois to opt out of No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress trap by proposing to add a bunch of new standardized tests and use them to label schools using a 5-star rating system.

Sound dumb? Well, that’s the way it was designed. Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan, who hated NCLB’s dumb requirements when he ran CPS, has come up with even dumber requirements, misleadingly calling it a “Flexibility Waiver”. States must agree to meet Duncan’s requirements in order to free themselves from the original dumb requirements: adopt the Common Core standards, participate in a test-development consortium to create Common Core tests, tie teacher and administrator evaluations to test scores, develop a new way to humiliate schools – that is, a new accountability system to replace the old “failure to meet AYP” label – and use that system to fire teachers and close schools.

One more requirement of the waiver is that the state agency has “meaningfully engaged and solicited input on its request” from educators as well as parents and other stake holders. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) claims that it did that (see request p.17 ).

The Trib references the comments PURE submitted to ISBE and quotes me and a CPS high school student:

Illinois’ proposal to add more testing also has generated concerns — from educators, advocacy groups and students.

“It’s almost a joke. We’ll just add one more standardized test,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Chicago’s nonprofit Parents United for Responsible Education.

In February, her organization submitted comments to the state board that called Chicago’s schools “test factories.”

“This proposal,” the group said, “will make that terrible situation worse for our children.”

Daniel Vazquez, a student activist and senior at Chicago’s Kelly High School, has lived through the gamut of state testing over the years and recalls the embarrassment of failing the 3rd-grade ISAT.

“Oh, my God, it was horrible,” Vazquez said. “The test, it doesn’t mean anything. … It is just statistics, not the person you are. There is no critical thinking.”

In his classes, he said, “They don’t focus on the real important issues. They focus on the test, and strategies to pass the test.”

Vazquez acknowledged that tests serve a purpose in showing what students have learned. But he would prefer assessments that highlight their work rather than exams that he describes as “hard-core, brain-killing exercises that really don’t show true results.”

You can read the comments yourself — a summary of PURE’s testimony is on p. 57; others begin on p. 45 of the attachment. Then ask yourself whether ISBE listened — a question we in Chicago ask about our appointed Board of Education every day. It seems clear to me that the parents had serious concerns about more tests, and many others were opposed to the star rating system. Here are some sample comments:

The stars system for designating is not well detailed at this point and appears to be as arbitrary as the current system of all or nothing AYP.

The proposed system of targets is as arbitrary as the old system.

(S)ome inane starring system ….

I have to wonder how this “Star” system is in any way helpful or illustrative of a school’s quality. Unfortunately, it appears that this method is complicated, will surely be misrepresented in the press, and will only serve to further alienate the public from their public schools.

The Star Rating System appears to contradict the primary purpose for the development, submission and approval of this waiver. As previously mentioned, ISBE staff have devoted significant hours toward this project and the flexibility package will in fact provide needed relief to Illinois schools. However the inclusion of a star rating system will negate all of the effort through this practice. The newspapers and media will ignore the multiple measures index and simply produce a listing of 4 star, 3 star, etc. schools in their areas with 1 star schools under the same banner of failing schools. As noted in the ISBE public information, only eight high schools in the state made AYP based on test results in 2011. This star rating system will lead to a new headline that boasts only “X” 4 stars schools in the state based on test results in 2012.

Sounds to me like a Roger Ebert “thumbs down” or a Hedy Weiss “Not Recommended” to me, yet the state chose to ignore this input and propose the dumb idea anyway.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.