Counterpoint: To help all students, all must be tested

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Across Illinois this week, students problem-solved, reasoned and wrote their way through the new state test called PARCC. It’s about time. For years, parents, teachers and students lamented low-level tests that limited, rather than advanced, high-level instruction.

With newly rigorous learning standards, all parents want to know: How is my child doing? Will she be ready for college or work?

But it may soon be tougher to respond. Tuesday, the Illinois House passed a bill that opens wide the door for children to be opted out of our state assessments. HB306 now heads to the Senate.

OPINION

This is a misleading policy that risks rolling back years of hard-fought efforts to make sure our schools help all students achieve, not just the top performers.

History tells us who will lose: students from low-income homes, students of color, English learners and students with disabilities who can be easily encouraged to “disappear” from testing rolls at schools worried they might drag down the average. This occurred widely before the federal government stepped in with a 95 percent threshold for student participation. Students who are not tested end up not counting.

We champion a parent’s right to engage in their child’s education and we believe students are much more than a score. But this must be balanced against creating an education system that serves all students. Without rich assessment data, we will not know how students are faring.

To be sure, there are real concerns about too much testing. There also is a concerted effort to learn and improve. For instance, PARCC this week unveiled plans to fold its two-part test into one and reduce test times by 90 minutes. Let’s work to get this right rather than go back to an era that left some children in the shadows.

Much attention has been paid to the $1.3 billion in federal funds potentially at risk if fewer than 95 percent of students take the state assessment. This is an ill-advised risk in an era of thread-bare school budgets.

But it’s not the main reason to oppose this bill. As a Chicago principal recently noted, high-quality assessments tell us “what our kids are capable of doing and what they’ve actually learned while they’ve been in our presence.”

It’s essential to know this for all of our students, not just some.

Submitted by Robin Steans is from Advance Illinois;Andrea Zopp, Chicago Urban League;Tony Smith, State Supt.; Juan Salgado, Instituto del Progreso Latino;Kati Haycock, The Education Trust;Mimi Rodman, Stand for Children Illinois; andMichael L. Lomax, Ph.D, United Negro College Fund.

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