PARCC results: Most suburban students not ready for college

  • Students at South Elgin High School participate in a rigorous English class for juniors. Newly released report card data shows significant numbers of suburban students are not college or career ready.

    Students at South Elgin High School participate in a rigorous English class for juniors. Newly released report card data shows significant numbers of suburban students are not college or career ready. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/10/2015 2:15 PM

More than 70 percent of suburban students are not fully prepared for college, according to Illinois School Report Card data released Wednesday.

Only a third of Illinois students are meeting or exceeding standards in mathematics and English literacy, while 28.4 percent of students are "approaching" expectations, the results show.


District- and school-level results released Wednesday are from the first round of PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- tests taken for the first time last spring by students in third through 11th grades.

PARCC assessments in math and English language arts/literacy are based on the more rigorous Common Core State Standards and replace previous standardized tests -- the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE).

The new test aims to give teachers, schools, students and parents better information about whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school. It also is meant to help teachers customize learning to meet student needs.

But some educators say the test is flawed and was implemented too quickly after a trial run with some districts in 2014.

"There was not enough time for implementation or reflection," said Jeffrey Smith, director of research and evaluation at Northwest Suburban High School District 214.

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District 214 was testing juniors last spring when the state announced schools could test freshmen instead.

The scores, Smith said, are difficult for schools and parents to understand because there are so many caveats as to what they mean.

Unlike the PSAE, which was administered to all juniors, high schools were allowed to test different grades and choose from nine courses. More than 60 percent of high schools administered a combination of English Language Arts/Literacy 3 and Algebra 2/Integrated Math 3 tests, state officials said.

Smith said PARCC has promise, but its problems are many, including comparing different grade levels, testing by course instead of by grade, and difficulty with administering the test.

"It's hard to communicate the complexities and what people should take away from it in any succinct way," he said.

Interpreting results

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. States have applied the assessments differently in kindergarten through 12th grade with varying thresholds for proficiency, yet with the goal of being able to compare scores across the consortium.


In Illinois, test results are broken down into five categories: Level 1, student did not meet academic expectations; Level 2, student partially met expectations; Level 3, student approached expectations; Level 4, student met expectations; and Level 5, student exceeded expectations. Levels 4 and 5 are considered proficient.

Educators say the meets/exceeds score alone doesn't paint a complete picture of how students are performing. And while students who scored in Level 3, or approaching expectations, may be struggling in some aspects of the tests, with proper supports they could be successful in college or careers.

This measure is different from previous years' ISAT and PSAE results, which classified schools as either failing or passing based on students achieving proficiency.

With PARCC, though, a host of factors affected scores, including technological challenges with roughly 74 percent of all test takers statewide taking the test online, and several suburban high schools boycotting the test.

The results weren't surprising to leaders of Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second-largest with more than 40,000 students.

"We probably could have predicted this data without the numbers," said Laura Hill, director of assessment and accountability. The district's top performing schools remain the same: Eastview Middle School in Bartlett and Bartlett High School. Scores at four U-46 elementary schools -- Ontarioville in Hanover Park, and Lowrie, Channing, and Huff, all in Elgin -- were among the lowest in the Fox Valley region at both levels.

"At the bottom of the list, that's where our highest population of free and reduced-lunch students and our English Language Learners are," Hill said. "It's an assessment that has high literacy expectations whether it's on the math side or ELA side."

State education officials have cautioned against comparing the results of this baseline year to previous ISAT and PSAE scores, though both measure whether students meet or exceed expectations for their grade level.

Hill said school districts can't ignore PARCC results but added, "we're going to continue to use our internal measures."

Not tested

Statewide, 4.4 percent of students did not take the PARCC test, but at several suburban schools the number was much higher -- but often for varying reasons.

Vernon Hills High School did not test 45.8 percent of its students in reading because of technical glitches delivering the test online, officials said.

Officials at Glenbard East High School said they also had technical issues during testing, but they said their 43.2 percent of students who were not tested in math is largely because they were not in the course where the test was given. In math, Glenbard tested students only in Algebra I, but about half the freshmen in District 87 are already in a higher-level math class, said Peg Mannion, community relations coordinator.

Northwest Suburban High School District 214's high schools have some of the highest "not tested" percentages in the state, largely because of a vocal and active opt-out movement.

At Rolling Meadows High School, more than 90 percent of students did not take the math or reading test. At Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, 81.3 percent were not tested in reading and 57.1 percent were not tested in math. More than 60 percent of students at Prospect High School were not tested in either subject.

"There was an organized protest, essentially a walkout during testing that became contagious to the other schools," said Jeffrey Smith, director of research and evaluation. "I don't think this has anything to do with their actual performance or skills or their willingness to be assessed. I think it has to do with how the students and parents valued PARCC."

"It is concerning to us," he said, "but I question whether these scores are valid not only for our district or school, but at the individual level. We had students who told us even if they took the test that they gave no effort to it, they were just doing it to get through."

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