Which Northwest suburban schools did best on PARCC
Typically high-achieving elementary schools -- including those from Arlington Heights, Barrington, Schaumburg and parts of Palatine -- scored best in the Northwest suburbs on a newly released state test that measures college and career readiness.
The first Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test was given last spring, but results were released this week by the state board of education. Scores for nearly all schools dropped as students adjust to new Common Core learning standards and a different testing format.
Marion Jordan Elementary School in Palatine Township District 15 performed the best in the Northwest suburbs, with 79.4 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards and another 15.1 percent in a newly created third level called "approaching" standards.
Students who scored in Level 3, though not meeting or exceeding all standards, are not failing, either. They may be struggling in some aspects of the tests, but with the proper supports they could be successful in college or careers, educators say.
Overall the Northwest suburbs did better than the state as a whole -- 131 schools had more than 33 percent of students who met or exceeded standards, which was the state average on the new test. Fifty-three schools in the area did worse than the state average.
"We're really pleased with how we performed as a district," said Thomas Edgar, District 15 director of assessment, ability and programs. "We have a lot of systems that provide support to students who show struggles early on; they receive that support immediately. And we have a solid framework for giving effective instruction for our students."
The Palatine district had a 55-point gap between its top and bottom schools, though, with Marion Jordan at the top and Jane Addams Elementary School at the bottom, with only 24.1 percent of students meeting or exceeding.
"Palatine has a very diverse array of student populations," Edgar said, including many students who are still learning English at some schools. "There are a number of things that will impact how a student will perform on a test. Every student is going to enter at a different point. It's important to look at not just where our students end up, but how much growth we are getting from them."
Other top schools in the area included Thomas Dooley Elementary School in Schaumburg, Barbara B. Rose Elementary and Grove Avenue Elementary schools in Barrington, Pleasant Hill Elementary in Palatine, Lincoln Prairie and Fairview Elementary schools in Hoffman Estates, and Olive-Mary Stitt and Greenbrier Elementary Schools in Arlington Heights.
"Historically, Barrington 220 students achieve at very high levels. We have a dedicated staff who work hard to provide students with rigorous instruction, and students who are eager to learn," said Superintendent Brian Harris. "We are proud of our students for performing well on the exam, but are not surprised by the results. Students in Barrington 220 come to school ready and excited to learn. We have great parental involvement and our staff members are passionate about providing high quality learning in our classrooms. That combination yields high academic achievement for our students."
Superintendent Andrew DuRoss of Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, which had 11 schools in the top 25 of the area, had similar thoughts.
"This demonstrates great work that our staff is doing to teach the updated learning standards and prepare our students for the demands of college and careers," he said.
But DuRoss said the PARCC results are just one tool the staff looks at to judge student performance.
"It creates a good baseline for us going forward, but it is just one of many assessments we use," he said.
Among middle schools, Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights came out on top with 72.4 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards and another 18.5 percent approaching.
While officials at most of the top schools said they are happy with the results, it has still been a year of adjustment to get used to the new test in District 25.
The nearly eight-month wait to get the results of the test means that most schools likely will not be making any major instructional changes based on these scores.
"It would be better if we had them much sooner so we could do more with them," said Eric Olson, assistant superintendent for student learning.
As this is the first year for the new test, the results cannot be compared to previous years' ISATs and are difficult for educators to put into context.
"It's going to take us a couple years to get an understanding of the test and whether it is truly measuring what we want it to measure," Olson said. "Overall, we've tried to take a calm approach to it and try to gather some data before we have any strong reactions one way or another."
The percent of students who were "not tested" -- which could mean they were absent or refused the test -- was generally much smaller in elementary districts than at the high school level. Several elementary schools in the area took the test with paper and pencil, while high schools mainly took it online and suffered some technical issues.
Also, organized opt-out movements occurred at several high schools, including those at Northwest Suburban High School District 214, where large numbers of students refused to take the exams -- something that was generally not an issue with the younger students, officials said.
The school with the largest "not tested" number in the Northwest suburbs was Windsor Elementary School in Arlington Heights with 6.8 percent who did not take the test.
Olson said there was a "handful" of parents who contacted the school and said their children would not be participating, but that it was scattered through the district.
Some of the lowest-scoring schools in the area came from Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 where Walt Whitman Elementary School had 11.9 percent meeting and exceeding with 21.2 percent approaching, Eugene Field Elementary School had 12.2 percent meeting and exceeding, with another 23.6 approaching, and Mark Twain Elementary School had 16.2 percent meeting and exceeding with another 30.6 percent approaching.
Language barriers play a large role in those scores, though, said District 21 spokeswoman Kara Beach. More than 60 percent of students at each of those schools are classified as English Language Learners, according to 2015 data
"The PARCC English/Language Arts assessment is not an appropriate tool to measure the success of students who are still learning English," Beach said.
While the math test was provided in Spanish, Beach said the district -- which administered its tests online -- had a number of technical problems such as graphs that would not display properly.
Both of those factors, she said, make it hard for the district to learn anything from the new scores.
"It's hard to say. It's so new. It's not very well-vetted, and we can't compare it to anything else," Beach said. "Not only is a one day, one test snapshot not an accurate representation of a child's growth, but there are other measures we know such as classroom assessment and teacher observation that look at how a student is growing day to day."