March 22, 2017

SIU, ISBE collaborate on student assessment

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois State Board of Education has partnered with Southern Illinois University Carbondale on a groundbreaking new process for scoring a large-scale student academic performance assessment.

More than 400,000 Illinois students took the Illinois Science Assessment for the first time in spring 2016. The new assessment not only satisfied federal accountability requirements, but also provided ISBE with the opportunity to innovate on the traditional assessment model from top to bottom, while maintaining quality and reducing costs.

Budgetary uncertainty at the state level delayed the start of the scoring process for ISA, but the scoring process is now underway. ISBE expects schools to have spring 2016 assessment results in summer 2017. 

The results of the summative science assessment will provide educators and administrators with additional data to inform broad curriculum adjustments at the school and district levels to ensure Illinois students build a cohesive understanding of science over time. Because the ISA is not a formative assessment, educators will not use the results to make teaching adjustments year-to-year for individual students. The delayed results will not affect individual students’ learning or their prospects for success on the 2017 administration of ISA. 

“We are building a trusted and sustainable assessment infrastructure from the ground up,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said. “Illinois students will benefit from the return on our investment in a cost-efficient, fully aligned, and locally developed assessment system. The process of hand-scoring delivers valuable professional development to Illinois educators and science experts. Partnering with a local research institution, instead of outsourcing the hand-scoring to an out-of-state vendor, keeps both the work and the institutional knowledge of scoring the exams within Illinois.”  

SIU will engage science experts and Illinois educators licensed to teach science in hand-scoring the 1.3 million ISA test items. Educators also will engage in the standards-setting process to occur at the conclusion of this first year of scoring. In the future, Illinois educators will have the opportunity to receive training on assessment item development, assessment statistics, and item evaluation. 

“We’re pleased to collaborate with the Illinois State Board of Education to oversee this important project,” SIU President Randy Dunn said. “ISBE clearly recognizes the importance of ongoing assessment to reinforce the quality of education statewide.”

ISBE developed the ISA through new methods and by forging new partnerships. District of Columbia Public Schools provided test items aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards for inclusion in ISA, which also aligns to the Illinois Learning Standards. The ISBE Information Technology Division created a new assessment administration user interface that automatically updates student records in near real time and replaces the time-intensive manual rostering required by other assessment programs.

ISBE partnered with Illinois-based software company BreakThrough Technologies to develop the ISA using software from an open-source platform, resulting in the elimination of licensing fees and significant resource savings.  

“The partnership taps into SIU Carbondale’s strengths in science education,” Interim SIU Carbondale Chancellor Brad Colwell said. “We are honored to have this opportunity to extend our long, successful history supporting Illinois education at all levels.”

ISBE has made enhancements to the ISA platform based on educator and administrator feedback in preparation for the spring 2017 administration. Enhancements include expanding test administration to more devices and improving the test management system. 

School districts across Illinois will administer the ISA in spring 2017 to students in fifth and eighth grades and once at the high school level. The high school assessment utilizes a course-based model with content aligned to Biology I.

For more information on SIU’s role in the partnership, contact Harvey Henson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, at 618/453-4214 or at