State drops PARCC for high schoolers, will pay for SAT
Illinois high schoolers will take only one standardized exam during the 2016-17 school year -- at the state's expense.
The SAT will replace the controversial PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, for all high school juniors this year, state education officials announced Monday.
The move comes after criticism from suburban school districts that were stuck paying the bill for administering the SAT college admission exam in the spring. Illinois stopped funding the ACT college entrance test -- which had been administered for free to 11th-graders for 15 years -- while switching to its counterpart, SAT, as the state's preferred test.
Many suburban school districts paid for a college test, though not all gave students the SAT option without a guarantee of state funding.
Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for Elgin Area School District U-46, said the district is pleased with Monday's decision. "It will be better for juniors to just have to take one test."
U-46, the state's second-largest district, offered both ACT and SAT to its roughly 3,000 juniors this spring, spending thousands of dollars on each set of tests.
Educators also have lobbied to get PARCC dropped altogether.
"To say I'm thrilled would be an understatement," said Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent David Schuler.
Schuler has been outspoken in his criticism of the PARCC assessment and the quantity of tests high school students have to take. During the first year of PARCC testing, District 214 had among the highest percentage of students refusing to take the test, more than 80 percent at some schools.
"I commend the state board of education and Superintendent Tony Smith for really looking into this issue, listening to people in the field and looking at the amount of time high school students are already spending taking tests," Schuler said.
The Illinois State Board of Education now will provide the SAT exam, including a writing component, at no cost to all public high school juniors -- at least for the coming school year.
"District and school administrators overwhelmingly agree with ISBE that every high school junior should have access to a college-entrance exam, a policy that promotes equity and access and that provides each and every student with greater opportunities in higher education," Smith said. "The SAT is aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards and will continue to empower educators to measure college and career readiness."
Students in third through eighth grades will continue to take the PARCC assessment, which also is aligned with Illinois Learning Standards.
Schuler said the change would not have happened without added flexibility given to states under the new national education law -- Every Student Succeeds Act -- which Schuler, as president of the national superintendents association, had a hand in getting passed through Congress.
The bipartisan measure was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10, 2015. In developing a state plan for the new law, the state board of education conducted listening tours to gather input from students, parents, schools, districts, educators, administrators, union representatives, advocacy groups and other interested parties. Participants called for the need for equitable access to a college-entrance exam for all students and lessening the testing time and number of assessments administered to students.
Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea thanked the state board and superintendent for listening to educators statewide.
"This is another great example of effective collaboration between ISBE, the state superintendent and education leaders across the state in making decisions that are in the best interest of Illinois students, and ISBE and Dr. Smith are to be commended for their leadership," Lea wrote in a Facebook message.
Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, called the state board's plan to drop PARCC in high school a "common-sense solution."