Testing headed for scrutiny amid protest, boycott

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Amid an escalating battle over standardized testing that included a “play-in” protest at CPS headquarters last week and a student boycott of the Prairie State Achievement Exam on Wednesday, CPS officials are undertaking a broad review of testing in the district. In May, they will announce specific plans for the 2013-14 school year.

They’re already eliminating one test that kindergarten and 1st-grade students would have taken this spring, and another for preschoolers. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the protests didn’t play a role in the district’s decision. Rather, she says, parents and teachers told her that the Northwest Evaluation Association’s “MAP for Primary Grades” test just didn’t provide useful feedback on instruction.

“I had been concerned and really wanted to take a deep look at how our district uses assessments – whether we are using assessment as a tool for instruction… or are we just testing because somebody said we should?” Byrd-Bennett said.

She added that tests can be “counter-productive if we are not using assessments in the way we think we should be” and that teachers in kindergarten and 1st grade just don’t have time to use the tests to inform instruction.

However, those young students may still have more tests to take by the end of the year, because many network chiefs have principals use additional tests beyond those required district-wide. Byrd-Bennett is leaving open the possibility that some of those could be scaled back as well.

She says she has convened a meeting with chiefs of schools to let them know that she “probably will not” approve such tests unless chiefs can demonstrate they are effective at improving instruction, and that the appropriate training is in place for teachers.

The district’s Kindergarten Readiness Tool, given to preschoolers, will also be discontinued this year. 

Preschool teachers have complained in recent years about an increase in assessments, including the Kindergarten Readiness Tool and an observation done several times a year, called Teaching Strategies Gold.

3rd-grade test for 2nd-graders

Also, 2nd-grade students will be faced with a harder test than before. Instead of the MAP for Primary Grades, they will instead take the same MAP test as 3rd– through 8th-grade students as they finish the year.  Byrd-Bennett says that’s to give 3rd-grade teachers better data about their incoming students.

The information from the primary-grades test “was not as valuable because it’s a different type of test. It’s a test that has a lot of supports. Our 3rd-grade teachers called it the ‘baby version’ of the MAP test,” explained Didi Swartz, the district’s Director of Assessments. The primary version has more pictures and audio to help students through questions. But, Swartz explained, “third grade is kind of a different beast.”

To take the MAP, students answer questions on a computer, typically for 45 to 60 minutes.  The computer gives them easier or harder questions depending on how well they’re doing, zeroing in on a child’s level.

This story has been updated to include information about the Kindergarten Readiness Tool.