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Concerns continue to emerge and frustrations build as Districts 65 and 202 review a new standardized test currently being required by the State of Illinois for students beginning in third grade and extending through high school. Members of both School Boards heard an update on the PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) at their joint meeting on Nov. 3.

According to the PARCC website the tests, which replaces the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) are, “high quality, computer-based K-12 assessments in Mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy… that measure real world skills that colleges and employers say they value – like critical thinking and problem solving.” The math portion, for example, will not be a fill-in-the-blank or “bubble test” but will have students complete problems and show their work. The tests are said to incorporate the Common Core Standards adopted by more than 40 states, which determine what students should learn at each grade level.

District 65 and 202 administrators have quite a few concerns, however, that they spelled out in a three-page report given to members of the School Boards, and which they summarized at the joint Board meeting.

Testing Time

“Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff,” begins the report presented by Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for District 202, and John Price, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for District 65.

Third-graders will sit for a total of 13 hours and 30 minutes of testing, with time increasing to 15 hours and 45 minutes for high school students. Not only is the amount of sitting time a concern, but a significant amount of instructional time will be lost as well.

ETHS has allotted five days to complete the PARCC tests, with an additional two days needed to show kids how to navigate the online interface. “We do not know if that will be sufficient to complete required testing,” says the memo. ETHS plans to test 738 students enrolled in 2 Algebra and 687 students enrolled in 3 English, which includes students in grades 9-12. Pulling these students out of their classes for extensive testing will disrupt nearly all other classes, says the report.

“Testing fatigue and student wellbeing are major concerns” as well due to the time PARCC will need to be administered. The State sponsored ACT is given on March 3 and continues through May 22. Advanced Placement (AP) testing also falls within that time frame. Last year more than 400 ETHS juniors took AP exams. “This means that a junior taking multiple AP classes stands to miss more than a week of instructional time (5 days to PARCC, 1 day to ACT) in addition to their AP testing dates” states the memo.

“Compressing ACT, PARCC and AP within a 44 school-day window has the potential to result in lower test scores on ACT and AP exams. If ACT counts for college admission and AP counts for college placement/credit, then what is the value of PARCC beyond 5 days of additional testing in the spring?” asks the memo.

Other Concerns

Aside from issues of test time, logistical concerns continue to emerge. Information about PARCC continues to “trickle in” from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), said Dr. Bavis, which makes planning difficult to the point where the school calendar – which was submitted and approved by ISBE in the spring – may need to be altered.

Cost is also a concern. In addition to the State’s price tag of $57 million, hidden costs continue to emerge as schools may need to rent tables and chairs to have adequate space for testing. Headphones will need to be purchased; substitute teachers hired. There is a concern that battery life will be a problem and the administration does not know what to do about that yet.

On top of it all, it is unclear how useful the results will be. “Despite claims made by PARCC, PARCC is not being used for college admissions. Unlike the ACT and SAT, PARCC is not a national standardized test,” says the report. Currently, only 11 states plan to administer the test, down from 23 initially, which makes national comparisons difficult at best. Schools do not know what PARCC tests will be administered in the future as assessments continue to be developed.

“PARCC is not being thought of as a means to demonstrate student growth if there is no intention to measure students’ longitudinally,” the report says. “In fact, it appears that we are going in the opposite direction by starting with 3 English Language Arts and 2 Algebra.”

“What can we do?”

“This is shocking, just wrong,” said Katie Bailey, District 65 School Board member and parent. “What can we do?”

“There is a growing movement against PARCC within Illinois,” said Gretchen Livingston, District 202 Board president. She mentioned a petition circulating through a group called Illinois Raise Your Hand that seeks to “Park the PARCC” by securing a delay through a federal waiver or moratorium on the test.

Parents have begun taking to social media to express their outrage and look for ways to organize and focus their frustration. Some have stated that they will keep their kids home on PARCC testing days. A letter from the ISBE clearly states, though, that students may not opt out of the assessment. If they do, their school districts may be in violation of State and federal law, and the districts may lose State and federal funding. Further, teachers and administrators who willingly refuse to comply face disciplinary action and possible action by the State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board.

There is a “growing alarm” among superintendents in the area, said Dr. Eric Witherspoon, District 202 superintendent. The Chicago Public School system is among those that have come out against PARCC.

“Our number one avenue” is the legislature,” said Dr. Witherspoon. There is a “concerted effort to communicate with our legislators.” Other states, like Massachusetts, have found remedies through the legislature allowing schools to opt in or out of PARCC.

Dr. Witherspoon went on to suggest that there are other alternatives assessments worth exploring. He mentioned the Smarter Balance and Aspire assessments. Aspire is part of the ACT suite of tests designed for third- through twelfth-graders and is aligned with the current ACT tests used for college admission. Aspire is also less expensive, takes less time, is nationally normed and brings with it the “credibility that the ACT brings,” said Dr. Witherspoon.

It was clear from the School Boards’ discussion that members feel something needs to be done and that the State legislature seems to be the only hope. Members stressed the need to talk to legislators and are looking to take more formal action by their December meeting. As it stands now, plans for implementing PARCC are proceeding.