Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

July 4, 2013

Illinois' writing test back, but without funding



Sharon Washington of the California-based National Writing Project, a federally funded program that stresses the teaching of writing skills, said that as cash-strapped states prepare for the upcoming change, they "would rather be on the record (saying) that they're pro-writing ... even if they don't have the resources currently to reinstate high-quality, direct assessment of student writing."

Illinois' writing exam — which is not required under federal education law — was eliminated in 2011 to save money. Because student essays are read by two separate judges, the test is much more expensive to conduct than other portions of the test, which are scored by machines.

No statewide records track which schools formally cut back on writing. But Barbara Kato, director of the Chicago Area Writing Project, another advocacy group, said some Illinois administrators are anxious about a drop-off in writing skills in high schools, partly because college-level advanced placement exams require writing.

"Last week I got four calls from high school principals about teaching writing," Kato said. "They are nervous about the Common Core."

That hasn't proven to be the case everywhere. Danielle Barter, principal at Johnston City High School in southern Illinois and a 23-year veteran English teacher, said her school has made a point of not losing its writing focus.

"Kids still needed to write," she said.

As far as the funding, Kotowski said he believes the state board can manage to deliver the writing tests within the $27 million that lawmakers allotted for all assessments.

"They have several months to prove that they can manage within that number," Kotowski said. "If it's a challenge ... we'll find out from them."

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat and chief proponent of state education reforms, said she was "pleased that we agreed to spend $2.5 million as a new starting point."

She described the move as a "proactive measure that will help more Illinois students be college ready."

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