Most St. Charles Dist. 303 candidates say no to PARCC testing
St. Charles Unit District 303 students recently completed their first experience with new, Common Core-related testing, but most school board candidates support the district's recent resolution against the exams.
Common Core sets new standards for English and math stemming from collaboration among private nonprofit groups and state education departments. The idea is to better prepare students for college and the workforce while also ensuring students in all states learn, at a minimum, the same academic concepts at each grade level. Common Core sets standards that participating states agree to. Then states and local school districts determine the curriculum to meet and teach those standards.
The federal government has encouraged states to adopt the standards with billions of dollars of incentives and ongoing Title I funding, but they are voluntary. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia initially adopted the standards. Since then, Indiana and Oklahoma dropped out.
Most of the St. Charles school board candidates said during a recent forum and endorsement interview that they would prefer to see Illinois follow suit in regards to the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing. The new exams replace the ISAT and PSAE tests.
Challenger Rick Leidig has three children who recently took the exams. He said there is no way to benchmark the district against neighboring schools with PARCC because some students took the exams on paper while others took electronic versions.
"It's only in math or English; there's no history or science in the test," Leidig said. "There's no way to do comparisons. It's a 12-hour waste of time."
Fellow challenger Lowell Yarusso said he views Common Core and the new exams much the same way as he views "the new math, the new, new math, and the new, old math."
"I see no real long-term evidence that it's better than what we are trying to replace," Yarusso said. "If it's not better, why are we paying more for it? We'd be better off fine tuning what we've got."
Incumbent Judith McConnell has consistently spoken against Common Core and the new testing. She said the new tests are an unnecessary stressor on students, teachers, parents and administrators.
"I don't think this is a test we should opt out of because we never opted in," McConnell said. "We had tests. It's nothing except about money. It's dangerous, and it needs to stop."
Challenger Jennifer Reeder has been the candidate most vocally opposed to both Common Core and the PARCC exams.
"If you are for Common Core, you are for increasing your property taxes," she said. "It is extremely expensive to implement. You are for the loss of local control. You are for the loss of family privacy. Common Core is about lessening knowledge as the child goes through the system."
But not every candidate is ready to totally dismiss Common Core and the exams just yet. Incumbent Nick Manheim said one year of testing is too small a sample to judge the standards and exams.
"Time will tell," Manheim said. "I'm sure boards many years ago debated the ACT. I have the analogy of (NFL quarterback) Peyton Manning. If people judged him by his first year, he would have been an awful quarterback. Well, he turned out to be a pretty good quarterback."
Fellow incumbent Kathy Hewell said several district teachers have told her they are fans of the new standards. She said the district has set its own curriculum to meet those standards. Though she is not a fan of the PARCC exam because it takes away the district's ability to follow student performance trends, she cautioned against a mutiny.
"It has been said that we should forego PARCC testing and the funding," Hewell said. "If we do that, we have a letter from the state, almost blackmail, that say we would lose our Title I funding, our Title 3 funding. But this is a whole new test not based on anything we've had previously."
Former school board member and challenger Lori Linkimer said Common Core and the new exams have value as a tools to ensure all students across the state receive at least a base level of knowledge to succeed.
"You must have a road map of where you're going, or you go nowhere at all," Linkimer said. "All the students need to be given the same educational opportunities within the district and the state. I want to know that it does not matter what school my child attends; the curriculum they are presented is the same."
There are nine candidates running for three seats on the school board. Former board member Mike Vyzral and challenger Stephen Bruesewitz are also on the ballot. Vyzral could not be reached for comment.
He did not attend the forum or endorsement interview. Bruesewitz is not actively campaigning.