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District 153 staff wrestle with adapting assessment to remote learning situation

Homewood District 153 administrators and teachers are looking at ways to administer learning assessments now that students are attending school remotely. The unprecedented situation is raising a number of challenges.

At the school board meeting Tuesday, Kathy Schaeflein, director of curriculum and instruction, and Cathryne Czarnecki, a member of the district’s assessment team, provided the school board with an update on planning for assessment generally, and testing in particular.

Illinois uses the Illinois Assessment for Readiness (IAR) exam to meet federal mandates for testing all students. The test is administered in spring. In addition, District 153 uses its own method of gaging student achievement through the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) test, a multi-choice test administered on computer three times a year to all students. The STAR test allows the district to get immediate feedback on how students are learning.

Schaeflein said District 153 has an assessment team working with teachers in each building that is  helping to figure out how adaptation should work. She said the team and teachers have a different focus each month.

In August, the focus was on instructional practices specific to remote learning. In September, the assessment team’s discussions focused on the standards themselves, and this month they are focusing on assessing student learning.

Aside from a few weeks in the spring following the statewide closure of all schools to combat the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, districtwide remote learning is still relatively new. 

The difference between this fall and a year ago is that most students are working in their homes rather than the more consistent and controlled environment of schools. 

“There are a lot of extra challenges in the remote world. We’ve been doing a lot of problem solving,” she said.

Yet the same overall assessment goals still apply.

Schaeflein said the questions the assessment team asks are “How do we know if our kids are learning what they are supposed to learn? What do we do if they have and what do we do if they haven’t?”  

She noted that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has announced that this school year there will be no blanket waivers for standardized testing as there was in the spring. Schools are going to have to figure out how to do assessments under pandemic circumstances.

Schaeflein said the team is wrestling with how to ensure both reliability and validity in testing done remotely. 

“There will be some extra challenges for validity when we don’t have as much control over the environment,” she said, noting that the team is discussing ways to address the problem.

Board President Shelly Marks asked how the staff would address the possibility of parents or others offering assistance to students during testing.

“I know we all want our kids to do really well. How are you going to teach the adults that the best way for us to help the students is to get an accurate assessment?” she asked.

Schaeflein said the staff would do its best to educate parents about the need to steer clear of the assessment process.

“We are going to have to take it as a learning opportunity for all of us,” Schaeflein said. “We  have to keep trying and be creative and gather the information as best we can to help our students.”

Czarnecki said STAR testing, which will be done online, would begin at James Hart School on Oct. 21, with testing at Churchill and Willow Schools to follow later. It hasn’t been determined if STAR will be given three times this year, or just twice.

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