Evanston school superintendents criticize PARCC state testing, implementation

Paige Leskin, City Editor

As Illinois schools begin preparations for a new assessment that students will take in the spring, staff at both Evanston school districts expressed concerns last week about the test’s implementation.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, commonly referred to as PARCC, will replace testing in many states, including Illinois, in the spring as a way to assess students’ college readiness. However, local officials raised questions about the features of the test at a joint meeting last week between the school boards of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and School District 202.

“Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff,” said Pete Bavis, District 202 assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, in a Nov. 3 memo to District 65 and District 202 superintendents.

The computer-based assessment will be given to all students in the state from kindergarten to 12th grade. For Evanston Township High School students, the exam will require five school days devoted to taking the tests, Bavis told The Daily.

The PARCC testing occurs in the same season that many high school juniors are taking ACT and Advanced Placement exams, which could result in student testing fatigue, Bavis said.

“There’s nothing in it for a student except that lost instructional time. Colleges aren’t using it as an admission instrument. They’re not using it as a placement instrument,” Bavis said. “That’s a big problem when it starts to encroach upon instructional time. We’re talking days of testing for kids.”

PARCC was established as a uniform way to measure students’ readiness from elementary to high school across state lines. Before PARCC, third through eighth grade students took the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT, and the Prairie State Achievement Examination, or PSAE, was given to high school students.

With the adoption of new Common Core standards in 2010 by more than 40 states, the Illinois State Board of Education wanted to find a sufficient way that more accurately readied students for college, ISBE spokesperson Mary Fergus said.

“There was always this disconnect where kids did really well on the ISATs, but then their score plummeted statewide on the PSAEs,” she said. “It really is the only state assessment, the only assessment that we have developed to be aligned with the new learning standards …  It will be aligned for the first time and we’ve never had that.”

PARCC is still in the process of finalizing its testing requirements and Illinois legislators can still choose to not administer the exam statewide, Bavis said.

Although District 65 superintendent Paul Goren touted PARCC’s accomplishment in creating a uniform test across grades and raising the standards that students have to meet, he expressed the desire to hold off a year before staff had to implement the test.

A delay in implementing the test would allow test makers to work out any issues that arise, Goren said.

“The opportunity is for us to have an assessment that can help us understand how well kids are faring in comparison to the rest of the country,” Goren said. “Ideally it works really well, but it’s all in the implementation plan that we would have. We will be ready to do the assessment when it’s ready for us, but we’re also concerned about the glitches that might occur just from any first year implementation.”

A group of more than 20 states first agreed to use PARCC as its statewide assessment when it was initially announced. However since then, many states have dropped out of both the test and the core standards, leaving 12 states and the District of Columbia left to participate.

The attrition indicates that other states have found issues with the PARCC exam as well, Bavis said.

To replace PARCC, Bavis suggested using the ACT in its place, which is already defined as an assessment of college readiness. Under federal law, states who have been granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act must implement a more rigorous system that measures college readiness of students.

The ACT has an added benefit that it can be used for college applications, Bavis said.

“It counts for college, kids take it seriously,” he said. “It’s four hours of testing, versus 15 hours and 45 minutes of testing (with PARCC). It’s very efficient and it counts for college and we are already doing it. Other states are using it for that purpose.”

Fergus said Illinois would not be able to use the ACT as a replacement, as it does not abide by the new Common Core standards required under state law that the PARCC assessment will follow.

The ACT, which Illinois pays for statewide, will be available in Illinois for students to take March 3, a month and a half earlier than the test was administered in the previous school year. The move could result in less time for students to prepare for the test and lower test scores, which could affect college admission statuses, Bavis said in his Nov. 3 memo.

Bavis said school staff in Evanston are not alone in their opposition of PARCC. Officials have met with staff at New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, who expressed the same sentiment, Bavis said.

Bavis called on Illinois legislators to work to keep schools informed and to do away with PARCC. Through meetings with state officials, Bavis said he remains hopeful that PARCC could be eliminated in Illinois before students have to take it in the spring.

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Twitter: @paigeleskin