Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

July 4, 2013

Illinois' writing test back, but without funding



Pritchard contended it's basic math, not writing, that lawmakers need to help schools with.

Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said officials do not know where they will get the money at this point, but they say local districts won't be left holding the bag. She said one possibility is returning to the Legislature to ask for a supplemental appropriation.

"We're still exploring options," Fergus said.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the writing assessment requirement into law last week as part of the state's $35 billion budget. But in his budget proposal in March, the governor originally called for $400 million in cuts to elementary, middle and higher education. He blamed the dire scenario on the state's nearly $100 billion pension funding crisis, which drains money from other programs.

But thanks to more than $1.2 billion in increased tax revenue, lawmakers approved an education budget where spending remained flat compared to last year. It was welcome news for schools, which have suffered through $800 million in education cuts since 2009, Fergus said.

However, the new budget provides the same $27 million for student assessment tests while adding the extra writing-exam requirement, Fergus said. The 30-minute essay test will be included as part of the two-day Prairie State Achievement Exam, which is held in late April. Composed of the ACT test and a job skills test called the WorkKeys assessment, the exam is used for both college entrance and to determine whether students are meeting federal education benchmarks.

Senate Democrats put the writing exam requirement back in the budget after lobbying from educators. Within a year, they noted, writing skills will be required more than ever as the state moves to adopt the federally initiated Common Core standards, a more rigorous assessment to be used in the 2014 school year by Illinois and 44 other states. Last year, only 32 percent of Illinois high schools met federal education law benchmarks.

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