St. Charles schools tallying cost of new PARCC testing

  • Students at Marlowe Middle School take the state's new standardized test, PARCC, earlier this month in Lake in the Hills.

      Students at Marlowe Middle School take the state's new standardized test, PARCC, earlier this month in Lake in the Hills. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/19/2015 4:57 PM

For some St. Charles Unit District 303 school board members, the only thing worse than PARCC may be its financial bite.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is the new testing portion of the Common Core curriculum movement adopted by Illinois in 2010 in an attempt to raise the bar for English and math competency in U.S. students.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The exams are intended to be better aligned with higher education demands and put all states on equal footing. A key element is the digital delivery of the exams, but many educators, including those in District 303, are finding that tough to do.

The district has no cost estimate yet, but they are concerned about a high price tag attached to getting all students in front of a computer to take the exams within a two-week time frame.

District 303 used a staggered electronic delivery for its initial experience with the new exams this year, when seven grade levels took the exam. The test will expand to more students next year.

And so will the costs. Superintendent Don Schlomann says he hopes state officials continue to allow some students to take the tests with old-fashioned paper and pencil. The district just doesn't have enough computers to administer the exams to all students within the two-week testing time frame.

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"We made a decision early on that we weren't going to give all of our students the digital exams," Schlomann said. "Had we done all seven grades digitally, we would have been spending some substantial amounts of money in order to there both in Wi-Fi and bandwidth and computers themselves."

Only fifth- and sixth-graders and high school freshmen took the digital version of the exams this year. Third-, fourth-, seventh- and eighth-graders took a paper and pencil version allowed by the state.

But there is no guarantee how long there will be an allowance for nondigital versions because the results may not be comparable with the results from the paper and pencil versions.

School board member Ed McNally, also a teacher, said the paper and pencil and digital versions are two very different testing experiences.

"There is not going to be a transition from one year to the next, nor even, this year, one student to the next, for the kids who took it digitally versus pencil and paper," McNally said. "There are embedded videos that you can't do on pencil and paper. It's going to be a year where we are supposed to be establishing a baseline, and it's not possible to establish a baseline."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For now, the plan is to have fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders, along with high school freshmen and sophomores, take the digital version next year. Schlomann said it's not possible to administer the digital version of the exam to even three grade levels at the high school at this time.

"We just don't have the horsepower," Schlomann said.

School board members have asked for a thorough cost breakout of exactly what it's costing the district to be ready for the PARCC testing. Schlomann said, for now, the vast majority of the costs are in staff time and preparation.

But there have been some unexpected hiccups, including the discovery that none of the computers at Richmond Intermediate were compatible with the exam.

"That being said, we didn't spend a ton or money, or even much money at all this year," Schlomann said.

District staff members will craft a full report on current and future PARCC testing costs for board members to review. Whatever the price tag is, board member Judith McConnell is unlikely to be a fan.

At a school board meeting this week, McConnell voted against spending money on both additional bandwidth and text books associated with the new Common Core curriculum.

"I may be the only one who feels this way, but my sense is that Common Core is going to go down in flames," McConnell said. "We are going to have spent all this money for absolutely no good reason."

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