Every January, schools across the state spend a significant amount of time administering the ACCESS test. Last year, we had just finished shipping back test materials when schools shut down due to COVID-19 in March. The ACCESS has four components (listening, speaking, reading and writing) — each administered separately. It measures English Language proficiency for students who speak another language at home, and are enrolled in the bilingual program. The majority of the students who take the exam are primary students in grades K–3, as well as students with disabilities and newcomer students. The school district expects that students increase their scores to demonstrate their continued growth of English. In a normal school year, that is a fair request. However, the last year of schooling has been anything but normal.
In the city of Chicago, COVID rates continue to surge, and we are nervous and anxious about the impact of holiday gatherings in our community. We understand that there is a high chance that COVID will continue to skyrocket and schools will not actually be able to open. However, without a federal waiver, we would be expected to administer the test–even if schools are not open. It is concerning to think about any student having to take a standardized test right now, but I find it deeply troubling that a marginalized group of students could potentially be expected to come to the school right after the Christmas holiday and another potential spike to take this test.
Recently, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has requested that Congress postpone the federal NAEP exam. While this is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. We need a waiver to include all exams under ESSA, including the ACCESS and IAR in Illinois. While test data is typically used to drive instruction, we need to recognize that testing under these conditions will not yield accurate or valid results.
Teachers across the district have done an amazing job of maintaining access to their required native language and English language services during this shutdown. Teachers have learned (essentially overnight) how to teach online and continue to improve instructional quality. However, it is still not the same amount of language instruction that they would be exposed to in a traditional year. We desperately need a waiver for the remainder of the school year to protect that health and safety of all of our students and school communities.
Send a letter to Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala urging her to seek this waiver for Illinois and all states.