The New Illinois Arts Learning Standards

IALS_Logo_FINAL_ for AAI CaroseulIllinois has been revising its learning standards from the old 1997 standards to encompass what our children need to know to be successful in the 21st century. New standards for Math, English/Language Arts, Science, Social Science, and Physical Education have been revised in recent years. This summer, new Arts Learning Standards have been adopted and approved.

The new Arts Learning Standards were created by Illinois educators in an 18-month process coordinated by Arts Alliance Illinois and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). These new standards reflect the needs of Illinois students, incorporate best practices in arts education, and honor the diversity of school districts across the state. The new standards recognize the role the arts play in developing critical thinking, effective communication, broad-based collaboration, and creative problem solving.

The new standards will be in effect for the 2018-2019 school year and focus on five areas:

Each of these five focus areas have standards tied to creating, producing, responding, and connecting with the arts.

As part of the process of developing the new standards, an interactive website was created to provide information and resources on the New Illinois Arts Learning Standards, including a comprehensive report on the process of developing the standards. With these new standards, Illinois becomes a national leader in arts education.

News from National Convention—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOn December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, a significant change in how federal, state, and local governments will guide your child’s education for the next decade or more. While you can read the full 449 pages of the bill, a workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando highlighted the key points that families need to know about the new law, and National PTA is creating an array of materials to distill this information into bite-sized pieces.

ESSA—The Basics

ESSA is divided into eight “Titles,” each of which address a different aspect of federal education funding and requirements. The two titles of largest interest to families are Title I, dealing with schools with high poverty levels, and Title IV, dealing with funding for student support, charter and magnet schools, and family engagement. Overall, ESSA reduces the high-stakes testing of No Child Left Behind, makes states responsible for defining success for students and schools, and requires that children be provided a “well-rounded education.”

ESSA and Family Engagement

Family engagement is crucial to student success, so much so that schools would have to spend $1,000 more per student to see the same increases in student achievement that come from an involved family member. ESSA recognizes the important role that families play in education. In fact, the word “parent” is the fourth most mentioned term in the entire law, just behind “state education agency.” For many of the decisions that states and school districts will have to make, families are to be “meaningfully consulted” for many of them.

Under ESSA, Title I schools must have a written parent and family engagement policy that welcomes all families. As part of this policy, each school must have a family meeting annually to explain what students will learn, the assessments used to measure student progress, the state’s academic standards, and the proficiency levels that students are expected to meet. In addition, 1% of the Title I funds are to be used for parent and family engagement. These funds can be used for teacher’s professional development on family engagement, home visiting programs, sharing best practices, and collaborating with other organizations like PTA.

Title IV of ESSA is focused on improving every student’s academic achievement. As part of Title IV, Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) are to be created to help school districts effectively engage families in in their children’s education. The SFECs are a new and improved version of the Parental Information and Resources Centers (PIRCs) that were part of ESEA/NCLB. The SFECs are to help implement more evidence-based approaches to family engagement.

While ESSA creates the SFECs, it is up to Congress to fund them each year. PTA is advocating for at least $10 million in funding for the SFECs (their authorized level in ESSA), an amount far less than the $39 million that the PIRCs were funded for under ESEA/NCLB. As of this writing, Congress has not appropriated funds for the SFECs, so contact your Senators and Representative today to ask for their support for family engagement. PTA has provided a pre-written letter that only requires your name, e-mail, and zip code (to identify your Representative) and two minutes of your time.

ESSA and Accountability

A significant part of ESSA was making states and local districts more responsible for the quality of students’ education. States will define their own academic standards and school accountability measures. States may also define their own teacher evaluation systems, but those systems are not required and do not have to include test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation. The law specifically says that states cannot be required to adopt specific standards or particular assessments, accountability systems, or teacher evaluation models.

States will still need to produce a school report card, and Illinois’s report card is considered by many to be the best in the country. There are also minimum requirements for a state’s accountability system in ESSA. These are:

  • Student assessment (see section below)
  • A second academic indicator (e.g., student growth, high school graduation rate, etc.)
  • English language proficiency
  • At least one other indicator of school quality or student success (e.g., Advance Placement classes, family engagement, discipline reports, attendance, etc.)

Note that states are not limited to only one extra indicator in that last requirement. Connecticut uses 12 indicators to measure school quality. Illinois is also planning to take a broad approach in measuring school performance.

In addition, ESSA requires school districts to provide students with a “well-rounded educational experience,” as defined by the state, and provides grants to help school districts meet this goal. Among the areas that such funds can be used are:

  • Accelerated learning courses (e.g., Advanced Placement and international Baccalaureate programs)
  • College and career guidance and counseling programs
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, including computer science
  • Foreign language courses
  • Music and arts programs
  • Programs to teach American history, civics, economics, geography, and government

ESSA and Student Assessment

ESSA still requires states to have annual assessments in Math and English/Language Arts in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. States must also have a science assessment once in grades 3-5, once in grades 6-9, and once in grades 10-12. ESSA also requires that no less than 95% of all students or any subgroup of students participate in the state assessment.

While ESSA still requires annual assessments, it reduces the high-stakes nature of those assessments and provides resources for states and school districts to eliminate redundant assessments. Under NCLB, student scores were the sole determination of school performance, and schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) were subject to reduced funding, school reorganization, and other penalties. Because of the punitive nature of these consequences, many school districts significantly increased the number of assessments that they did in order to identify those students who could meet or exceed state standards with a little extra support.

Because student scores on an annual assessment are only a part of a school’s performance under ESSA, these assessments do not have the high-stakes accountability that they did under NCLB. In addition, ESSA calls for states to provide additional funds and supports to help schools not meeting the state’s measure of school performance rather than reducing resources. With the reduced emphasis on a single assessment of student performance determining a school’s performance, districts can move away from heavy use of their own assessments and focus only on those that help teachers measure and improve student success.

Illinois has already begun this process by developing a Student Assessment Inventory tool for school districts to evaluate how they are using assessment, what information they are receiving from those assessments, and where redundancies can be eliminated. The pilot project of this tool in three Illinois school districts resulted in a significant reduction in local assessments, improved professional development for teachers to create their own assessments for their classroom, and improved information on student performance to help teachers support their students’ education.

Additionally, Illinois’s State Assessment Review Committee (SARC) is currently conducting a PARCC Listening Tour to collect feedback from students, families, teachers, and administrators about this past spring’s PARCC assessment in Illinois schools. You can fill out a short survey to provide your feedback to the committee.

All feedback will be included in the SARC’s final report.

Helping Your School Go 1:1 with Technology

7691519996_162e98b0ec_bTechnology is becoming ever more necessary in our society, in our jobs, and increasingly in our schools. Many school districts are now planning on “implementing 1:1”—providing each student with a networked device, whether it is an iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or other technology. Just as PTAs were asked to help put computers in the classroom in the past or LCD projectors and Smartboards more recently, they are being asked to help implement 1:1 in their school district.

With those past technologies, it was not unusual for computers to sit at the side of the classroom gathering dust because the teacher didn’t know how to use them or to see a Smartboard used as simply a fancy chalkboard. Tom Murray, the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools (an initiative Illinois PTA has written about before), has laid out six keys to a successful 1:1 implementation:

  1. Begin with the Why and Focus on Learning Outcomes. Districts must ask why they want to go 1:1 and what they want their classrooms to look like in five or ten years. They also need to consider how teaching and learning will change with the availability of technology.
  2. Personalize Professional Learning. Teachers must have relevant, on-going, engaging, hands-on professional development with technology in order for the potential of that technology to be realized in the classroom. One-time technology “boot camps” that focus mainly on how to use a device or application doesn’t change classroom instruction.
  3. Redesign the Space. As Mr. Murry states, “Many of today’s classrooms have amazing 21st century tools sitting in 20th century learning environments.” Adding technology to classrooms with desks in rows facing the teacher, just like those in 1890, will have limited benefit. In order for teachers to help students build collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking skills, the classroom needs to be flexible and provide space for movement, collaboration, and inquiry.
  4. Leadership and Culture Set the Tone. A culture of innovation requires leaders who promote risk-taking and empower teachers to fail forward just like startup companies do. Those leaders also need to model the instructional practices they want teachers to use in the classroom when conducting faculty meetings and in-service professional development.
  5. Ensure a Robust Infrastructure. An old laptop with a dying battery that takes five minutes to boot up does not help learning in the classroom. School districts must not only plan to purchase technology but also plan on how and when to upgrade that technology. Those upgrade plans must extend beyond the technology in students’ hands—a flaky Wi-Fi connection hinders learning as much as or more than a slow laptop.
  6. Equity in Access and Opportunity. While there are many good reasons for installing blocking software on student-accessed technology (e.g., pornography, gambling, etc.), it is important to not over-block needed content and resources. This is especially true in 1:1 implementation when students will need to use devices at home. Districts also need to consider how to increase access for those who do not have an internet connection in the home.

These are all important points that PTAs should be asking their district about when asked to help fund technology in their school. Mr. Murray notes that this list is only the beginning of the conversation, and Illinois PTA has covered other questions PTAs should be asking about technology. We all want our children to have the best in their school, and PTAs often find it difficult to tell a school “no” when asked to make purchases, but without critical questions about technology use before providing PTA support, education outcomes will not change and PTA funds will have been wasted, just like those dust-gathering computers a decade ago.


Photo ©2012 by Michael Coghlan under Creative Commons license.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Assessments

conv logo 2Illinois is currently in the middle of its annual state assessment of students with the PARCC exam. We have highlighted the video series discussing the role of assessment and how they inform teachers. At the 114th Annual Illinois PTA Convention, Dr. Kay Dugan, Assistant Superintendent for Learning at Bensenville School District 2, shared what her district has learned about how to effectively use assessment as part of the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) Student Assessment Inventory Pilot Program. Bensenville School District has 2,151 students, three-quarters of whom receive free/reduced lunch, two-thirds of whom are Hispanic, and over one-third of whom have limited English proficiency.

Types of Assessment

Dr. Dugan noted that it is important to distinguish between the different types of assessments that teachers use. Formative assessments are used to determine where a student is in the learning process to inform the teacher where students need additional instruction and where they have mastered the material. Dr. Dugan compared formative assessments to a chef working in the kitchen, tasting dishes to see if the cooks have prepared the dishes correctly or if more seasoning is needed. Formative assessments may be done in a variety of ways, including classroom discussions, exit slips, quizzes, observation, and other means.

Summative assessments are intended to provide a summary of how well students have mastered the material after instruction is done, such as a final exam in a course, a student portfolio created over the semester or year, or the PARCC exam. Dr. Dugan stated that summative assessments are like the chef’s dish heading out into the dining room for the restaurant critic.

In between these two are interim assessments, things like chapter or unit tests, which measure how well students have mastered materials but also inform how the teacher should proceed. Dr. Dugan noted that formative assessments generally should not be for grades, as students are still struggling and learning the material. She shared how some students can lose hope when these assessments are graded, because they may do poorly on them while learning the material and then when they have mastered the subject, their summative assessment can’t pull their grade up by itself.

Balanced Assessment

The key, Dr. Dugan shared, is to have balanced assessment with frequent formative assessments, periodic interim assessments, and limited summative assessments. Yet when Bensenville School District began their first assessment inventory, they found that they were completely out of balance. There was almost no formative assessment being done. There were some interim assessments, but they were used in a more summative way, mirroring the ISAT’s multiple choice format. There were many summative assessments. Dr. Dugan described their approach as over testing but under assessing.


Critical Questions About Assessment

As a result of their first assessment inventory, Bensenville began having frank discussions about which tests were providing valuable information. Coupled with research showing that regular, high-quality, classroom level formative assessment could increase student achievement, Bensenville realized that they needed to change how assessment was done in the district. Dr. Dugan noted three critical questions that they asked about every assessment:

  • Does the assessment arise from high-quality standards?
  • Does the assessment produce accurate evidence of learning?
  • Does the assessment provide results that reliably inform decisions?

Dr. Dugan also noted that the district needed to have teachers well-versed in the role of assessment in the classroom. The district provided extensive professional development for teachers on assessment, both in knowing its role in informing instruction and it creating effective formative assessments for the classroom. The effect of this approach has transformed how the district teaches students as well as how it assesses them.

ISBE Resources on Balanced Assessment

ISBE has provided school districts with information and training on how to conduct a student assessment inventory like Bensenville, Urbana, and West Aurora did in the pilot project. ISBE also has a page dedicated to balance assessment.

Finally, Dr. Dugan will be presenting at an event hosted by the P-20 Council Data, Assessment, and Accountability Committee in West Aurora on Thursday, April 21 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Attendance is free, but registration is required. A similar free (registration required) event will be held on Wednesday, April 27 from 3:30pm to 5:30pm at Urbana High School sharing their experience with the Student Assessment Inventory.