Illinois PTA Convention Preview—Resolutions

The 115th Annual Illinois PTA Convention will be held on April 7th and 8th at the Hilton—Naperville. Convention is a great opportunity to attend interesting workshops and network with other PTA leaders, but it is also the time that the Illinois PTA conducts its business. Part of that business is directing the legislative and advocacy activities of the Illinois PTA.

One of the ways that PTAs influence what the Illinois PTA advocates on is through resolutions. Resolutions can come from an individual PTA or from the Illinois PTA Legislative Policies committee. A resolution can call for legislation, direct the Illinois PTA to work with other organizations, provide information to local PTAs, or study a topic further and make recommendations. At this year’s convention, there are three resolutions for the membership to vote on addressing financial literacy, climate change, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Resolution on Financial Literacy

The Illinois Learning Standards for math touch briefly on financial literacy, requiring students to understand how pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars work as money and as decimals for elementary students and to be able to calculate the effect of interest on money invested for a certain period of time for high school students. But the standards don’t address how to fill out a check, how credit card interest rates affect the cost of the things you buy, or whether you should buy a car by paying more money up front, taking a loan for three or five years, or leasing.

These issues are of increasing importance for our children as more and more students are graduating from college with more and more student loan debt. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States. The Resolution on Financial Literacy addresses this issue through several actions:

  • That local PTAs and councils work with their school districts to incorporate financial literacy education into their curricula
  • That the Illinois PTA work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to include financial literacy materials that meet the existing Illinois Learning Standards
  • That the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils work for legislation for programs that teach financial literacy.

Most of the concepts of financial literacy are based in math, and one of the most important ways to get students to take an interest in math is to show them how they can use it in real life. Thus, using financial literacy materials to teach math concepts can be accomplished within the existing Illinois Learning Standards. School districts just need to be willing to make the effort. In addition, many financial literacy materials already aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards are available, and programs from organizations like Junior Achievement can also play a role in developing financial literacy.

Resolution on Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that manmade climate change is occurring. Among the effects of climate change that have direct effects on Illinois are an increase in extreme weather events (e.g., tornadoes, droughts, and floods) and public health issues such as:

  • Increased respiratory ailments including asthma due to increased levels of pollen, mold, air pollution, and dust
  • Increased incidence of certain cancers due to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation
  • Increased foodborne diseases and nutritional deficiencies due to food contamination, shortages of staple foods, and the reduced nutritional value of food caused by rising carbon dioxide levels

The Resolution on Climate Change addresses this issue through a multi-pronged approach. These include:

  • The Illinois PTA providing information to local PTAs and councils regarding climate change and its effect on the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local PTAS, and councils encourage school districts to consider including renewable energy resources (e.g., geothermal heating and cooling, wind turbines) and green infrastructure (e.g., energy efficient windows, green roofs, permeable paving) when building or renovating school district facilities
  • The Illinois PTA work with other like-minded organizations on the issue of climate change and its effect on the environment and the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local units, and councils support legislation that regulates activities that contribute to adverse climate change, mitigates the negative effects of climate change, supports and encourages the use of renewable energy, and supports efforts to remediate the negative effects of climate change that have already occurred.

Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, uses the injection of water and undisclosed chemicals into rock layers at high pressure to fracture the rocks, allowing oil and natural gas to be extracted more easily. The contaminated wastewater from this process is then injected back into the ground for disposal.

Research has connected hydraulic fracturing to a significant increase in earthquakes, unsafe levels of air pollution near fracking sites (resulting in asthma attacks, lung disease, dizziness and seizures, birth defects, blood disorders, and cancers, among other health effects), and contamination of groundwater. The latter is of particular concern in Illinois, where 35% of all residents, including 90% of all rural Illinois residents, rely on aquifers for their drinking water.

The Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing addresses this issue through both education and legislation. The resolution calls on the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils to:

  • Share information on the health and safety concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal
  • Work with other like-minded organizations to raise awareness of these concerns
  • Support additional research on current and new methods of oil and gas extraction and their potential environmental effects by independent researchers not affiliated with the energy industry
  • Support state and federal legislation that addresses the environmental and health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Helping Your Child Prepare for Assessments

Spring is here, and with it comes assessments. For third through eighth graders, that means the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). For high school juniors, that means the SAT.

Just like some schools may play up the assessments with pep rallies and such while others treat them as simply another test, some students may take assessments in stride while others stress out about them. Whichever reaction your child has, here are things you can do to help them prepare.

Understand the Role of Assessments

It is important for families to understand the role of assessments. The state of Illinois only requires one set of assessments—PARCC, the SAT, and the Illinois Science Assessment (ISA) in fifth and eighth grades and high school biology.

The additional assessments that your child takes are determined by your school district, and concerns you have with excessive assessments beyond the once-a-year state assessments should be directed towards your district. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has piloted the Illinois Student Assessment Inventory to help school districts reduce the number of assessments that they use by eliminating those that do not inform student instruction or overlap with other assessments.

The PARCC assessment tests students’ ability to apply what they’ve learned, not just report back facts they have learned. Likewise, the PARCC assessment report provides more information to both families and teachers on where students are struggling. A recent survey found that 90% of parents believe their child is performing at or above grade level in reading and 85% say their child is on track to meet learning goals and grade level expectations; however, in fact only 34% of eighth graders are reading at or above grade level according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The PARCC assessment provides you with the information you need to know if how you think your child is doing in school is actually true.

Finally, understand that how assessments are used to evaluate how your child’s school is performing has changed under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA has given the states the duty of determining how they measure school performance, and Illinois is using the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM). Under ESSA, schools that are identified as struggling are targeted for additional support, not the punitive measures that were enacted under No Child Left Behind for schools that didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Helping Your Child with Test Anxiety

Illinois PTA has shared information on how to help your child deal with anxiety in a general sense, but even kids without anxiety issues can feel anxious about a test, whether it is the PARCC, SAT, or a regular math test. The suggestions for dealing with general anxiety still apply with test anxiety, but there are other things that can help as well.

Familiarity with what the test will be asking can help. PARCC has practice tests available, as does the SAT. Good study skills and a plan to prepare help as well. Great Schools also has a short two-minute video on things you can do to help your child with text anxiety.

Resources are Available to Help You

There are many additional resources out there to help you help understand what your child needs to know to meet their grade-level expectations.

ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.

The Illinois ESSA Plan Draft #2 Highlights

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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law almost one year ago. During this past year, Illinois and every other state has been working hard to develop a plan to implement ESSA in their state, with the final plan due to the US Department of Education on April 3, 2017. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has released the second draft of the state plan, with comments due to ISBE by December 27, 2016. Illinois PTA has been representing the voice of families and children on several of the state committees making recommendations during the creation of the plan. Here are the highlights of what is currently in the state plan.

Accountability

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), school accountability was determined by the results of a single test. In Illinois, that was the ISAT for grades 3 through 8 and the PSAE/ACT for high school juniors. Schools needed to have a specific percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards as well as the same percentage of students in subgroups such as African-American students, Hispanic students, and special education students also meeting or exceeding state standards. Schools that did not meet those percentages (known as making Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP) were labeled as failing and subject to penalties. As a result, many states lowered their state standards and simplified their state tests to get as many students meeting or exceeding those lower standards.

With the development of the Common Core State Standards, implemented in Illinois as the New Illinois Learning Standards, a set of high-quality, high-expectation standards replace the older, lower standards. With those new standards came a new assessment aligned to those standards, the PARCC assessment. The PARCC test required students to demonstrate proficiency in what they had learned, not just memorized facts. But school accountability was still based on NCLB and its AYP standard. Under ESSA, that has changed significantly.

ESSA requires states to develop their own school accountability measure. The measure must include:

  • Student assessment
  • 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., Advanced Placement classes, family engagement, discipline reports, attendance, etc.)

States will determine what indicators they will use and how to weight each one in their accountability measure, but academic indicators must be given “significantly more” weight than school quality/student success indicators. It is unclear what the US Department of Education considers significantly more weight at this time, but Illinois’s draft plan #2 considers three different weights (70/30, 60/40, and 51/49). Depending on the weighting chosen, the annual assessment (now PARCC for grades 3-8 and the SAT for high school) will have a different level of importance in determining school accountability.

Illinois is currently considering student growth for its second academic indicator for at least grades 3 through 8 and possibly for high school as well. Draft plan #2 had four different growth models that are being looked at for the lower grades. A second high school assessment such as the PSAT may be needed to adequately growth at the high school level, though that approach comes with additional costs to the state. It may be possible to use a student’s 8th grade PARCC results as part of a high school growth indicator, but since that assessment is not used across the country or in private schools, it would be difficult to measure student growth for students who enter the Illinois public schools during their high school years.

Other accountability issues addressed in the draft plan include:

  • Reducing the size of identified subgroups to 20 (i.e., a school will only need 20 Pacific Islanders, for example, for those students’ data to be reported as a subgroup).
  • Creating a “Former English Language Learner (ELL)” subgroup to continue to track their progress after they are considered proficient in English.
  • Developing reporting for new groups, including homeless students, students in foster care, and students with a parent serving in the military.

ISBE is also reviewing all of the required data that schools and districts must provide to ensure that additional reporting requirements are not overly burdensome.

English Language Learners

Illinois has a state policy of educating students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) in their native language for core content or, where the native language is not as common, at least providing support in their native language, while also teaching English as a second language. As part of supporting ELLs, Illinois has been participating in the development of English language proficiency standards and assessments that incorporate the current college- and career-ready goals. ISBE will be meeting with stakeholders to determine what will constitute English language proficiency, with recommendations submitted by June 30, 2017.

ESSA also requires states to identify languages other than English that are present to a significant extent among the student population. For Illinois, 10 languages meet that standard, with Spanish being the most common. Illinois currently provides PARCC instructions in those 10 languages, but only the PARCC math assessment has been trans-adapted into Spanish. ISBE is considering public comments that suggested providing assessments in languages other than English when 30% or more of the ELL students speak the same language.

Title I Funding

In order to receive Title I funding, each school district in Illinois must submit a plan that was developed in consultation with stakeholders (e.g., families). Many of the required elements in this plan are similar to those under NCLB, but new requirements include:

  • How the district will identify and address disparities in teacher distribution.
  • How the district will ensure that every child is taught by a highly effective teacher.
  • How the district will support efforts to reduce the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom, including high rates for specific subgroups of students.

ISBE is also adding two more requirements to the plan based on public comment that are not required under ESSA:

  • How the district will identify and address disparities in library resources.
  • How the district will support efforts to encourage and support the arts.

Providing Public Comment

Illinois PTA already serves on several of the committees helping ISBE to develop the state ESSA implementation plan. If you are interested in providing comments directly to ISBE regarding draft plan #2, submit them to essa@isbe.net no later than December 27, 2016. Be sure to include your name or your organization’s name, as well as the section number and the page number that your comment is addressing.