Domeracki: Students begin PARCC tests amid educators' questions

 
By Doug Domeracki
Inside District 94
Posted3/12/2015 1:37 PM

A new type of standardized testing is beginning in Illinois this month. Known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, this exam represents a significant shift from previous testing in Illinois. Students at Community High School in West Chicago will begin taking the exam on Monday, March 16.

The first free public high school was established in Illinois in 1851, yet standards and standardized testing are relatively new and have changed repeatedly over the past 30 years:

 

• 1985: Illinois adopts 34 State Goals for Learning.

• 1988: Illinois Goal Assessment Program began to assess student achievement.

• 1997: New learning standards are adopted in math and language arts.

• 1997: IMAGE testing is first administered to students with limited English proficiency.

• 1999: Illinois Standards Achievement Test replaces the IGAP test.

• 2001: The first Prairie State Achievement Exam is taken by students in 11th grade.

• 2010: Illinois adopts new learning standards based on the Common Core in language arts and math.

• 2013: Illinois adopts learning standards for physical development and health.

• 2014: Schools fully implement the language arts and math learning standards.

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• 2014: Illinois adopts Next Generation Science Standards.

• 2015: PARCC testing begins.

The newest Illinois Learning Standards for language arts and math are based on the Common Core standards and were adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2010. At that time several states, including Illinois, began working together to develop a common set of computer-based assessments for language arts and math that are aligned to the Common Core standards. This initiative is known as PARCC.

School districts across Illinois, including Community High School District 94, have been aligning curriculum to the new Illinois Learning Standards over the past several years, and then selecting resources and providing professional development. A limited timeline was given that may not have given students and staff enough time to master the new standards for each content area. In addition, a new skill set is needed to administer and take the PARCC assessment.

"The PARCC exam cannot be passed with rote memorization and drills," said Christopher Cook, state superintendent of education "It calls for critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to synthesize information from various sources and provide evidence and reasoning when making an argument or solving a math equation. Rather than just asking students to select the correct answer and fill in the bubble of a multiple choice test, it pushes students to apply their knowledge."

The questions school districts have is, have we had enough time to prepare our students for the change in the way their learning is assessed?

Other concerns relate to what information will be provided from PARCC after the test is taken:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Will it give us information about each student's strengths and opportunities for growth?

• Will it assist us in evaluating our curriculum?

• Since it does not include the ACT as the PSAE exam did, will it be used for college admission purposes?

• If our students do not perceive some value to performing well on the assessment (i.e. college admission), will it be an accurate reflection of their learning?

Community High School participated in the PARCC pilot last year as a means to test our technology infrastructure and get a look at the online testing environment. While we have made modifications to our infrastructure to handle the online assessment, and have had 300 student volunteers simulate the testing environment again this fall, we experienced the PARCC testing site delays and failures that we are not in control of.

In addition, the deeper and more complex thinking called for in the PARCC requires multi-step questions that require additional time to complete. As a result, the impacts of the test include lost instructional time, and loss of technology resources for students not taking the PARCC.

As PARCC is mandated by state and federal law, we hope the PARCC will be an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know. We hope it will provide us with data to make meaningful changes in curriculum and instruction to improve our students' college and career readiness.

If you would like to experience the PARCC for yourself, visit parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/english/ and click the test for Grade 9, 10 or 11. If you prefer, you may also choose the math practice test from this screen.

• Doug Domeracki is superintendent of Community High School District 94 in West Chicago. His column appears in Neighbor monthly during the school year.