One year after removing the writing assessment test from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or the ISAT, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation that will bring it back to Illinois public schools.
Between 1990 and 2004, public school students took a writing test as part of the state exam. But last year, the Legislature eliminated writing, just as the national college entrance tests, the ACTs and SATs, added a writing component to their exams.
Eliminating the writing portion of the test was expected to save the state nearly $6 million in administration costs. The legislators limited testing to three subjects—math, reading and science—as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Still, many did not understand the move.
"It was ridiculous to eliminate the writing exam because nowadays more and more schools want students who have good writing skills," State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) says. "Businesses are losing money because they need to hire people to write.
"So, there may be two people doing a job that one person who has good writing skills should be doing." Del Valle also says that writing is neglected when other subjects are emphasized.
The Chicago Public Schools did not agree with the state’s decision.
"We were extremely disappointed because we believe that the ability to read, write and think critically are vital skills for a child to advance, whether it be in college, high school, middle school or elementary school," says spokeswoman Celeste Garrett.
"I was shocked, to say the least, that [the government] took the writing portion of the test out," says Norma Cassin-Pountney, a teacher at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park. It didn’t cause her to teach any differently, however.
"We write across the curriculum and will continue to do so," Cassin-Pountney writes in an e-mail.
According to Becky Watts, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, the writing portion of the exam will be reintroduced this school year, but only for sixth graders.
In past years, the exam was administered to third-, fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders. Those grades will be tested on writing again beginning in the 2006-2007 school year, Watts says.
At press time, the Illinois State Board of Education was still not sure what format the test will take.
"It’s been a year since we last administered the exam, so we want to use the most current and best research methods to develop our pilot exams," Watts says.
Lawmakers appropriated an extra $1.8 million into the state education testing budget to start up the reinstated writing test.