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posted: 3/8/2014 8:00 AM

Suburban school leaders urge state to delay new PARCC test

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Suburban school superintendents are urging the state education board to delay the implementation of a new standardized test expected to go live in the 2014-2015 school year.

The test -- PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- would be a logistical nightmare for many districts to administer next spring, the same time the ACT college entrance exam, Advance Placement tests and year-end final exams are being done, educators say.

"It's logistically going to steal a lot of instructional time that we question its value for our students," said Superintendent Ken Wallace of Maine Township High School District 207.

Roughly 25 superintendents and assistant superintendents from suburban high school and unit districts met Friday to discuss how to persuade the state board and legislators not to move forward with PARCC, to be taken by students in third through 11th grades.

"We are going to work with our (school) boards and our local legislators on our concerns and also some of the solutions we have for those concerns," said Brian Harris, superintendent of Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200.

Many school districts still don't have the technological capabilities needed to administer the PARCC test online.

PARCC is designed to replace several tests: The Illinois Standards Achievement Test, taken by third- through eighth-graders each year; the Prairie State Achievement Exam, given to 11th-graders; and, eventually, the 55-year-old ACT, taken by 11th-graders on the second day of the PSAE.

That could mean a loss of state funding for the ACT, forcing school districts to pay for ACT exams, putting additional strain on resources, educators say.

ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the state board has requested funding for both the PARCC and ACT -- roughly $33 million and $14 million respectively -- in the 2014-2015 budget.

"But if we are asked to pick and choose, we would want funding for PARCC," she said. "That's the test that's fully aligned to the new (Common Core) state standards in English language arts and math."

Fergus said if ACT funding were eliminated next year, the state board would advocate making funding available for low-income families that want to take the ACT.

Last month, suburban superintendents met with Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch and outlined their concerns about PARCC testing in a seven-page letter signed by 36 school districts.

"We want a system of assessment accountability," said Lynne Panega, superintendent of Lake Park High School District 108. "A lot of our concerns is the logistics, loss of instructional time, calendar implications, and excessive amounts of testing."

The letter urged delaying PARCC implementation, eliminating PARCC testing for 11th-graders and administering the ACT instead. It also suggested assembling legislators, K-12 educators and colleges/universities to discuss how the state's assessment model meets everyone's needs.

"A delay in the implementation of PARCC at the high school level would allow a deeper conversation on the logistical issues, but also that (kindergarten)-through-university connection," said Prentiss Lea, superintendent of Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128. "We want to make sure that when we do this, and when it rolls out, it does what we all want it to do."

Koch said the biggest shift with PARCC is that it is designed to guide instruction.

"The point of this assessment is to do what school districts have been asking for a long time," he said. "That's a big philosophical difference in how we've been testing."

Koch said he understands the nervousness with changing any testing system that has been in place for a long time.

"Part of the anxiety around the new assessment is not knowing what it's going to look like," he said. "We are moving here to also a mindshift."

Students would have to demonstrate how they can apply the knowledge they have learned, he said.

"Over 700 higher education institutions have been part of (PARCC) development," Koch said. "There is a lot of flexibility at the local level as to how they use the results from PARCC. They can use it as a test grade, they can use it as the final exam. They have more utility because it's so connected to what they are teaching."

Harris said educators have long felt a disconnect between ISAT scores and the ACT. He added, though, that while they are not lamenting the loss of the ISAT and PSAE, the ACT has long been held as a sound measure for college readiness.

"We have no problem with the PARCC assessment in grades three through eight. (But) we have no knowledge that higher education (institutions) recognize the PARCC assessment as valid for college entrance," Harris said.

Beginning March 24, about 125,000 students statewide -- or 11 percent of all eligible students -- in more than 1,800 schools and nearly 670 school districts will take a PARCC field test in language arts or math.

Fergus said more than half the schools in the state are prepared to administer the PARCC test online today.

"We want districts to proceed toward online learning before they start doing online assessments," she said. "If we have to offer (PARCC) as a paper assessment, we will."

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