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updated: 3/25/2014 5:28 AM

Suburban school superintendents testify about assessments

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Suburban school superintendents are testifying today before an Illinois House committee about their fears of losing funding to give the ACT as a new standardized test is launched.

The PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- test is to be taken by students in third through 11th grades next school year.

It 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 college entrance exam, taken by 11th-graders on the second day of the PSAE.

Field testing for PARCC began Monday in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Roughly 125,000 students in Illinois -- or 11 percent of all those eligible -- in more than 1,800 schools and nearly 650 school districts will take a PARCC practice test in English language arts or mathematics.

The Illinois State Board of Education has requested funding for both the PARCC and ACT -- roughly $33 million and $14 million respectively -- in the 2014-2015 budget. Yet, if forced to choose, state leaders have indicated they would seek funding for PARCC because that test is fully aligned to the new Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math.

Educators are concerned school districts may be left holding the bag having to pay for ACT exams themselves.

"Even if the state were to defund the ACT, we would certainly look to keep the ACT for all of our students," said St. Charles Unit District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann. "It's really been a good metric for us because most of our students go on to some sort of secondary education. It would be an expensive proposition, but more concerning for us is the time (spent taking tests)."

Suburban superintendents met with Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch last month outlining their concerns about PARCC testing in a seven-page letter signed by 36 school districts. Among the issues raised were the logistics of administering the test, loss of instructional time, calendar implications, and excessive amounts of testing in the last quarter of the school year.

"Anytime you change assessments, there's always this curve," Schlomann said. "There needs to be a time period here where we take this very slowly; we make sure that we don't make mistakes that either cost people their jobs or rate schools in ways that are not appropriate or are just plain wrong."

Schlomann said students from low-income families would suffer the most, if the state cuts ACT funding.

"It's not really the white suburban kids that want the ACT. It's also important for us to keep the low, socio-economic students in mind," he said. "That test helps those students (with) getting opportunities that they might not have."

Should ACT funding be slashed, ISBE would advocate for setting aside money to help low-income families pay for the ACT exam, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

The superintendents' 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.

"There is a reason why eight states have dropped out of PARCC," said Lynne Panega, superintendent of Lake Park High School District 108. "It would be curious to see more insight as to why other states have pulled out."

States that have decided not to go with PARCC had other compelling reasons, including a faulty notion that it is a federal government overreach, Koch said.

"A lot of the states came in late, and they were skeptical about doing it," he added. "A lot of states didn't have the money or weren't spending what we were spending on it. There's a lot of wisdom in giving the same assessment that other states are giving. We want to support districts through that transition. At the same time, we need to be looking at the future here."

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