Fox Valley schools see modest increases, huge dips in PARCC scores
Declining state test scores in the Fox Valley area have some educators questioning the accuracy and value of the data.
Schools across the suburbs saw declines in scores on 2015-16 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test given this spring to third- through 10th-graders for the second year.
"In only a second year, we continue to see great disparities in testing as far as the academic performance," said Fred Heid, superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300.
Two of the district's high schools -- Hampshire and Jacobs in Algonquin -- made the Daily Herald's top 10 list of high-achieving high schools in the Fox Valley, despite both schools seeing significant percentage-point declines in students meeting/exceeding standards.
Three of five Elgin Area School District U-46 high schools showed modest percentage-point increases on PARCC meets/exceeds scores -- Larkin in Elgin went up by 1.5, Streamwood increased by 0.8, and South Elgin increased by 1.7. Bartlett and Elgin high schools dipped by 2.1 and 5.7 percentage points, respectively.
Some educators say the high school PARCC scores no longer are relevant since the state has dropped the test for high schools in favor of the SAT college admissions test this school year.
"The PARCC is kind of an anomaly," said Brad Newkirk, Batavia District 101's chief academic officer.
Batavia High School dropped 17.7 percentage points in its meets/exceeds score, which doesn't jibe with how students are performing on other assessments, he said.
However, some of the top Fox Valley high schools maintained their ranking, with Geneva High School leading the pack.
Sixty-five percent of Geneva High students met or exceeded state standards, which puts it at the top of the Daily Herald's list of high-achieving high schools in most of Kane and McHenry counties.
Geneva also had the top average ACT score again, even though it declined 0.1 point from last year.
East and West Aurora high schools in Aurora were again the only schools with average ACT scores below the state average of 20.6 on a 36-point scale. East Aurora scored 17, and West Aurora scored 18.9.
Out of 53 schools that took the PARCC test in the West Aurora, Batavia, Kaneland, Geneva and St. Charles school districts, at least 32 had lower meets-or-exceeds percentages this year.
Newkirk attributes District 101's elementary school gains in overall meets/exceeds to improved mathematics scores likely because it is in the third year of implementing a curriculum that more closely aligns to the PARCC test. He expects similar gains in the language portion of the test next year also due to using a new English language arts curriculum.
West Aurora District 129's districtwide meets/exceeds score rose 1.5 points. And its Smith Elementary School meets/exceeds score nearly doubled -- from 8.3 to 16.5 percent. Of the 15 schools in the district, nine improved their meets/exceeds scores.
Officials can't say the same in St. Charles District 303, where 13 of 16 schools tested saw declines, or Geneva District 304, where all schools' scores dropped. Three of seven schools in Kaneland District 302 increased, including a leap of 23.6 percentage points -- from 9 to 32.6 percent -- for Kaneland High School.
U-46's Wayne Elementary School saw the largest percentage-point increase -- 7.6 -- in meets/exceeds scores among the district's 40 elementary schools from the previous year.
Principal Marybeth Whitney-DeLaMar credits school climate and a culture of supporting teachers for the improvement. Teachers also are providing literacy interventions for struggling students during class. That same approach will be taken in math classrooms, she said.
"I'm looking now for an intervention curriculum, not only to target struggling students but also the bubble kids, and will challenge my students who are already exceeding to exceed even higher," she said.
District 300's Heid attributes the discrepancy in performance to the shift from paper and pencil tests to online testing this year.
"These are the same kids that showed very high performance in 2014-15," Heid said. "It's like riding a bike. You do not overnight become illiterate."
Heid said PARCC scores also don't match up with the district's own internal assessments and the quality of its curriculum, supports and interventions.
"Like it or not, we live in an era of high-stakes accountability," Heid said. "This test is being used to evaluate teachers, students, and districts. ... When you get data back like this, it flies in the face of everything else we know. We deserve to have an assessment that accurately captures performance."