What To Know: COVID-19 Chicago Illinois And Schools | WBEZ
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Schools FAQ: Are Statewide Standardized Tests Canceled?

Updated 11:30 p.m., March 27

WBEZ is answering your questions about the coronavirus in Illinois. Have a question? Ask us here.

All public and private elementary and high schools in Illinois are closed at least through at least April 7 under an order from Gov. JB Pritzker. On March 19, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago Public Schools will be closed through April 20. We’re monitoring this developing story for news that applies to families with children in school — in the greater Chicago area, primarily — so check back for updates.

Parents (and students), here are answers to your pressing questions, researched and reported by WBEZ’s education team:

Are statewide standardized tests canceled in Illinois?

Yes. Under an executive order signed by Gov. JB Pritzker on March 27, all spring standardized tests are canceled.

This includes the SAT for high school juniors and math, English and science exams for elementary school students. The Constitution exam also is canceled.

The Illinois State Board of Education said it is aware that the free SAT provided by the state is the only chance many students get to take a college entrance exam. It said it is working with the College Board, which administers the SAT, to allow current 11th grade students to take the SAT in the fall.

These exams are required under federal law but the State Board of Education has applied for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. On March 27, the state board said it expects to receive formal approval soon.

On March 19, Chicago Public Schools canceled all district-administered standardized tests this spring because the school shutdown is extended until April 21.

Will school districts be required to add days to make up for time lost during the closure?

No. The mandated school closure days from March 17 to March 30 count as “Act of God” days. The state says these days count toward the 176 annual required student attendance days and do not have to be made up at the end of the year.

Starting March 31, Illinois moves into so-called “remote learning days.” These days will also count as instructional days and school districts are supposed to have firm plans for schooling from home beginning then.

The state says schools can implement e-learning or remote learning plans that provide “students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible.” This is a nod to the reality that many districts and families do not have adequate access to technology.

Can school work assigned during the shutdown count toward student grades?

Yes, with an important caveat. On March 27, the Illinois State Board of Education urged school districts to adopt grading models of “pass” or “incomplete.” This builds on previous state guidance that student assignments during the closure should only count if they improve a student’s grade.

However, the state’s remote learning recommendations released on March 27 also said school districts could “use a traditional grading structure (A-F) for students who would benefit from grades other than pass/incomplete” — with some restrictions. The state says a student’s grade should only be improved or maintained (and not decreased) and no Fs should be given out.

The rationale for not having school work count is that many schools aren’t ready for e-learning. The biggest challenges are student access to broadband and digital devices. Also, many accommodations required by law for students with special needs aren’t possible while school is closed.

The state says schools can implement e-learning plans that rely on technology, or remote learning plans that rely on paper and pencil. It is stressing flexibility and urging districts to adopt what works for its students.

In Chicago, school district officials told staff the following regarding grading: “Teachers can choose to grade and count student work completed during the closure … as long as it helps improve a students’ academic standing.”

How long will the K-12 school shutdown last?

It's unclear. The shutdown continues through April 20 in Chicago and across the state through at least April 7. Schools statewide were originally set to reopen on March 31 after a two-week shutdown. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on March 19, ordered Chicago Public Schools closed for an additional three weeks, through April 20.

Under the statewide “stay at home” directive issued on March 20, Gov. JB Pritzker extended the school closure for another week, with a tentative reopen date of April 8. “I wish I could stand up here and tell you when your schools will safely reopen, but that is not an answer I have at this time," Pritzker said.

Lightfoot said the decision for Chicago was prompted by “the continued upward trajectory of the virus spread.”

In terms of instruction, the Illinois State Board of Education said “remote learning days” will officially begin on March 31. This means they will count as instructional days and school districts should have firm plans for schooling from home starting then.

The state says schools can implement e-learning or remote learning plans that provide “students with instruction and access to educators through whatever means possible.” This is a nod to the reality that many districts and families do not have adequate access to technology.

Are Advanced Placement exams still happening?

Yes, but not at school. The College Board, which administers the May AP exams, says traditional face-to-face exam administrations will not take place. Students will take a 45-minute free-response exam online at home.

AP exams are given to high school students in a range of subjects, from chemistry and world history to drawing.

For each AP subject, there will be two different testing dates. The full schedule for each exam, question types and additional details will be available by April 3, according to the College Board.

The College Board says students will be able to take exams on a range of devices — computer, tablet or smartphone. Taking a photo of handwritten work will also be an option. If a student needs mobile tools or connectivity they can reach out to the College Board for help.

The SAT college entrance exam that was scheduled for May 2, which is also administered by the College Board, has been canceled.

Will colleges and universities be reimbursing students?

Yes, many are reimbursing for living expenses. Over the past few weeks, thousands of college students across Chicago were told to move out of university residence halls as colleges tried to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Many universities across Illinois have told students they are prorating their room and board and meal plans for this semester, including the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. Both schools were among those that required students to leave residential housing if they had a safe place to go.

The Chicago Business Journal estimates universities in the Chicago area could refund students more than $170 million for housing, meal plans and other services. Some local students, including those at DePaul University, have petitioned to have schools reduce tuition for the semester. They argue “the educational services offered are not equal to services rendered,” according to a petition on Change.org. The University of Illinois system estimates it will cost $35 million to reimburse students for housing and dining costs at its campuses in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign.

Can my children invite friends over?

This is strongly discouraged. On March 20, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a "stay at home" order. The order, effective March 21 though April 7, requires all so-called nonessential workers and residents to stay home. 

The head of the Illinois Department of Public Health on March 18 also urged children to avoid in-person play dates and hangouts.

“If you're a kid … don't undermine the school closures by now creating play dates with a bunch of your friends that you would have been at school [with],” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “That just negates the benefit of the school closure. If you’re a tween, the same thing. Don’t call everyone over and socialize. We’ve got to limit our exposure at all levels, at every age.”

In an essay titled “This is Not A Snow Day,” Dr. Asaf Bitton urged an end to all play dates. Bitton is a primary care physician and public health researcher affiliated with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“This sounds extreme because it is,” Bitton wrote in the widely shared essay posted on Medium. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent.”

If you’re outside with a friend, Bitton said to try to maintain at least six feet between you and that person.

Can students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch at school still get free meals?

Yes. Chicago Public Schools is distributing food bags from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily at its schools. Families can go to any building.

The state says school districts should distribute two meals a day for any child who qualifies for free or reduced price lunch. Gov. Pritzker has been encouraging schools to expand the effort to all children.

A sign points to free meal pick up at Frederic Chopin Elementary School.
Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ
A sign pointing to free meal pick up at Frederic Chopin Elementary School.

Can I still send my child to the Chicago Park District for child care? 

No. The Chicago Park District had been offering programming for children at 18 sites, but as of March 21 all Park District facilities are closed. This is due to Gov. JB Pritzker's "stay at home"  directive effective March 21 though April 7.

Can day care centers remain open? 

No. The governor's "stay at home" order closes licensed child care centers and all child care homes serving more than six children from March 21 to April 7.

The Pritzker administration said it s working to expand the availability of child care for essential workers.

City officials on March 16 said the Department of Family & Support Services (DFSS) was told by federal and state funders that financial support will remain available for all early learning and child care agencies while operations are temporarily interrupted.

Follow WBEZ’s education team on Twitter @WBEZeducation or @soosieon, @sskedreporter, @AdrianaCardMag, @McGeeReports and @KateGrossman1.

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