Early results from new school test don't paint entire picture
Parents and school officials in Illinois are getting a first look at how students fared on the first round of rigorous new standardized tests, but those numbers are incomplete and difficult to put in context, state education officials say.
The Illinois State Board of Education on Wednesday approved performance levels and proficiency thresholds for the Common Core-based PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- and released the first set of statewide aggregate results, without district-specific, school and individual student scores.
Results -- grouping test-takers into one of five categories indicating college- and career-readiness -- also represent only the tests taken online, which amounts to roughly 75 percent of all test takers statewide.
"There are other states that are waiting to share the data," State Superintendent Tony Smith told the state board Wednesday. "In dialogues with school districts across the state, people were hungry for the data. It has not been scrubbed down to the individual student level. It is not yet final by any means, and it will change over time."
Smith said the numbers being released account only for the broadest level of statewide test results.
Although the data won't give a full picture of how Illinois did, Smith said he is "committed to sharing the data as soon as possible."
Complete data may not be released until late November, and Smith did not have a clear timeline on when parents or the public would receive the full student report card, which in addition to test scores, typically includes information on student demographics, class size, average teacher salaries and other financial particulars.
The PARCC test was administered for the first time last year, replacing other standardized tests.
PARCC is a consortium of 11 states and the District of Columbia that developed common assessments measuring whether students are on track to be successful in college and careers. These kindergarten through 12th-grade assessments in mathematics and English language arts/literacy are aimed at giving teachers, schools, students, and parents better information about whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school. They also are meant to help teachers customize learning to meet student needs.
The consortium started with 19 states, but some have since dropped out of the partnership. In the 2014-15 school year, 5 million students took the PARCC tests in third through 11th grades, though not all participating states had students in all grades taking the test.
Even among the states that have dropped out due to political and public pressure, several are using some of the PARCC content, Smith said.
Smith blamed Pearson -- the company that developed and administered the PARCC test last spring in Illinois -- for the slow data release.
"I pushed as hard as I could," Smith said about trying to get the data sooner, calling the lack of information available at this juncture in the school year "unacceptable."
"It's important to have this information in the hands of the families," he said. "Taking longer to do that, as an educator, doesn't feel right to me."
But Pearson spokeswoman Laura Howe said the organization has met all "agreed upon deadlines" for delivering test results. "Pearson has met all timelines and deliverables regarding the scoring and reporting of PARCC results, as agreed to by the consortium."
Meanwhile, the state education board has launched a new website -- PARCC Place -- with tools and supports to help parents, students and educators better understand the test results.
Smith cautioned against comparing the PARCC results to the Illinois Standards Achievement Test results of years past because they are entirely different tests, though both measure whether students meet or exceed expectations for their grade level.
Instead, Smith said this is a "new start of the conversation" about how Illinois students are doing and whether they are on track to be college and career ready.
"These for me are threshold scores," Smith said. "We are going to learn a lot from this assessment ... where do we need additional support for kids, where do we need to build content. This entire test is framed around (students' mastery of) current content and readiness for what is next. I don't think it should be used to shame or censure. In order to have our kids be ready for the world, we need a new tool."
Illinois Education Association President Cinda Klickna issued a statement saying the results "are neither a surprise nor a cause for alarm."
"PARCC is a new test, based on new standards. These results cannot be compared with the tests PARCC replaced, as they are quite different from each other," she said. "These results provide a kind of baseline. However, since the test is being revamped, it's unclear how useful this year's test and results will be."
Klickna agreed with Smith that "the results shouldn't be used to shame teachers or schools."
"The new standards remain in place and we expect to see improvement in the years to come as the new test is refined and teachers become more familiar with the new standards," she said.
Illinois' release comes in the wake of mounting national controversy about the new test. Officials have been warning for months, including in a letter earlier this week, that more students will score lower than expected.
Several states already are distancing themselves from the PARCC test, including Ohio where the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Tuesday reported that only 35 to 40 percent of Ohio students in elementary and middle school met or exceeded expectations.
Yet, Smith said Illinois is committed to staying with PARCC for now and officials will continue to work out the kinks of both testing and data release.
The limited and incomplete data may make it even more difficult for parents and school administrators to understand what the new test means and how their students are doing.
"It's frustrating and disheartening," said Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent David Schuler, who as of late Tuesday night had not seen any of the data released Wednesday, a change from years past when school districts saw the results well before they were made public.