CPS snubbed on ISAT delay

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • February 27, 2008 @ 8:24 AM

The Chicago public school system has offered $120,000 toward the translation of the Illinois Standard Achievement Test into Spanish and Polish.

The state says it will take $3 million and 18 months.

Thus, when ISAT examinations begin statewide next Monday, they will also begin for all CPS students in grades 3 through 8. CPS officials had requested a delay so that the tests could be written in Spanish and Polish for children not yet proficient in English.

That request was denied by the Illinois Board of Education, a spokesman said yesterday.

CPS chief Arne Duncan says the test will be worthless for bilingual students.

"We find it very troubling that kids who have been taught and tested primarily in their native language all year by their teachers are about to spend an entire week of classroom time struggling through a test that they won't understand," he says.

Instead of a full translation, ISAT instructions are printed in 11 languages, including English, Spanish and Polish. For the first time a translation glossary, bridging English and 10 foreign languages, is included for "non-content words," says Matt Vanover, IBE spokesman. Using the glossary, students will, for example, be able to read a question in Spanish, but the answer, or content word, would not be provided in the glossary.

The language anxiety stems from a federal ruling in October that the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE) tests -- previously used in Illinois for students not proficient in English -- did not meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

With so little warning, another substitute test for the ISAT could not be created in time for the March testing period. In January, CPS requested the ISAT exams be delayed to April and pledged $120,000 for translation of the tests. But state officials found the cost would be $3 million over two years to create a new test.

"It's not as easy as just going from English to Spanish or English to Polish," says Vanover, noting that cultural differences would have to be accounted in the tests.

The state's goal is to have a new ISAT in place by 2010.

Of the estimated 55,000 non-English-speaking public-school students in Illinois, 24,000 reside in Chicago -- most of them Hispanic or Polish.

Vanover said only those students have been in the school system for a year would take all three portions of the ISAT: math, science and reading. Those here for less than a year would only take the math portion, meaning an immigrant child who recently arrived from foreign soil with limited English skills would not take the science and reading ISAT exams until next year.

In a news conference less than two weeks ago at Nixon Elementary, a mostly Hispanic school on the Northwest side, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley blamed the feds.

"When they decided to put this together, your Democrats and Republicans all came together. They said, 'This is an easy thing to do. No child left behind.' What a great statement. The statement is meaningless because there's no money," Daley said.

At Nixon, 96 percent of the 1,053 students are Hispanic and 41 percent have limited English proficiency. Last year, 62.4 percent of its students met or exceeded state standards in the ISAT and 56 percent met or exceeded state standards in the IMAGE. Both figures were up from 2006, but both lagged 1-4 percent behind the CPS average and far behind the state average of 78.7 percent in the ISAT and 63.4 percent in the IMAGE.

The concern around the CPS is this: Last year, the standard for adequate yearly progress was 55 percent, which a school like Nixon achieved in both ISAT and IMAGE testing. This year, federal guidelines raise the standard to 62.5 percent, and another 7.5 percent until it reaches 100 percent in 2014. If a school does not reach those standards, then it is defined as not making adequate progress.

In addition to ISAT scores, attendance, graduation rates and participation in assessment tests determine whether a school is adequate yearly progress under the federal guidelines.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.