Friday, July 8, 2011

Illinois drops writing from standardized exam

Illinois will assess only reading and arithmetic now that high school juniors will no longer be tested on their writing skills during standardized exams every spring, according to a published report.

Cutting the writing exams will save about $2.4 million amid the state's budgetary shortfalls. Writing tests for elementary and middle school students were dropped last year.

"We're trying to minimize the damage" of the cuts, Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch told the Chicago Tribune for a story published Wednesday. "Writing is one of the most expensive things to assess."

Federal law doesn't require or fund writing tests. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, public schools are evaluated based on their reading and math test results.

Illinois isn't alone in struggling with how to offer an effective education for less money. Oregon and Missouri also recently made money-saving cuts to their writing exams.

Illinois education officials expect to restore the writing assessments in 2014 when a new state testing plan will require students to periodically take online tests, Koch said.

And the end of the writing section on state standardized exams for now doesn't mean students won't be tested on their writing at all. Many Advanced Placement exams given in May require writing, and the SAT college entrance exam has a writing requirement.

While some teachers and advocates lamented that the changes may take attention away from writing instruction, others said it may open some doors.

Without having to focus on the tests, "I think it offers some freedom," said teacher Heather Schwartz of Pfc. Omar Torres Charter School in Chicago.