On Dec. 14, School District 65 administrators presented students’ results on the 2015 PARCC test, which has replaced the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). PARCC is a consortium of states that participated in developing the new assessment. It began with 26 states and the District of Columbia; only six states and the District of Columbia remain.

“The PARCC assessment was developed to gauge how well students are mastering the [Common Core State Standards],” said Paul Goren, superintendent to District 65. “Both the math and the ELA [English language arts] assessments required students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through items that required more critical thinking, problem solving, and writing.”

The PARCC test results give the percent of students, by subgroup, who scored in each of five performance categories:

• Level 1: Did not yet meet expectations,

• Level 2: Partially met expectations,

• Level 3: Approached expectations,

• Level 4: Met expectations, and

• Level 5: Exceeded expectations

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) said in a prepared statement, “Students falling within level 4 or 5 have readiness for the next grade level or course, which is considered on track for college and careers, as defined by the Illinois Learning Standards. They have a thorough understanding of grade-level content and are on the right track to being ready for college-level coursework. Students receiving a 3 are approaching expectations, but may need additional assistance mastering content. Students receiving a 1 or 2 need more assistance in mastering the content and are in need of greater supports.”

Only students scoring in levels 4 and 5 are considered “proficient,” and on track to college and career readiness.

In terms of defining what being college ready means, PARCC states, “performing at the college and career ready level means graduating from high school and having at least a 75% likelihood of earning a grade of at least a ‘C’ in first-year college courses without the need for remedial coursework.”

This is part of the ACT’s definition, which has set college ready benchmark scores in four subject areas. Those scores represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in a corresponding credit-bearing first-year college course.

PARCC a Higher Bar for Illinois

Far fewer Illinois students are rated “proficient” under PARCC than “met standards” on the ISATs. This is due in large part because ISBE low-balled the benchmarks to meet standards. For many years, the benchmarks were set so low that students who were at serious risk of academic failure could still “meet standards.” In January 2013, ISBE raised the benchmarks, but students who just met those benchmarks had  only about a 10% of meeting ACT’s college readiness benchmarks toward the end of high school.

The low benchmarks to “meet standards” on the ISATs made it appear that students were better prepared to succeed in their lives than they actually were.

Recognizing this problem, the District 65 School Board decided in 2011 to use higher benchmarks to report the percentage of students who were on track to college readiness on the ISATs and on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. See sidebar, page 27. While the PARCC results are somewhat different, they are not a shock to the system being experienced by many other school districts in the State.

On a composite basis, across all grade levels, 48% of District 65’s students scored proficient (i.e., on track to college readiness) in ELA on the PARCC test. Of those, 38% were in the Level 4 category and 10% in Level 5.

For comparison purposes, on a statewide basis, 38% of the students scored proficient in the State, with 32% in Level 4 and 6% in Level 5.

For math, 47% of District’s 65 students scored proficient on the PARCC test. Of those, 39% were in Level 4 and 8% in Level 5.

On a statewide basis, 28% of the students scored proficient in math, with 25% in Level 4 and 3% in Level 5.

While some parents opted to withdraw their children from taking the test, 91 percent of District 65 students took the ELA assessments, and 92 percent took the math assessments.

Dr. Goren noted that the PARCC data, like the ISAT and MAP data, shows large gaps in the achievement of students by race and ethnicity. The bar charts below show the percentage of District 65 white, Hispanic, and black 3rd- through 8th-graders who scored proficient on the PARCC test in ELA and math.

For comparison purposes, the red lines in the charts show the average percentage of students in each subgroup in the State who scored proficient for each subject and grade.  While there are significant gaps by race, District 65 black students are generally doing about the same as black students statewide; District 65 Hispanic students are generally doing better than Hispanic students statewide, and at 8th grade they are approaching the statewide average of all students in ELA and exceeding it in math; and white students are doing much better than white students statewide.

The PARCC data, like the ISAT and MAP data, also demonstrates the importance of reaching children in their earliest years. The charts below show the percentage of District 65’s black, Hispanic and white 3rd-graders who scored in the bottom three performance levels, Levels 1, 2 and 3. The data show that while many students are in Level 3 (approaching meeting proficiency), significant percentages of black and Hispanic students are in the bottom two levels, Levels 1 and 2, which signifies they need more assistance in mastering the content (Level 2) and are in need of greater supports (Level 1).

At 8th grade, a significant percentage of District 65 black and Hispanic students still fall in Levels 1 and 2. The table above shows the percent of black, Hispanic and white 3rd- and 8th-graders in Levels 1 and 2 on the 2015 PARCC test in ELL and math:

Addressing Student Needs

 “As we review the results from the PARCC assessment, there is a heightened urgency for District 65 to serve all of our students, especially those students who are under-performing,” said Dr. Goren. “There is also an urgency to listen and learn from members of the community, particularly our African-American and Hispanic families, to ensure that our actions reflect community needs.”

At the Dec. 14 meeting, Dr. Goren highlighted 13 actions the District was taking through its Strategic Plan adopted earlier this year to address the needs of students, which he said he believed would have “a meaningful impact of student achievement.” See link to article below. 

Changes in PARCC

The PARCC consortium has made three changes to the PARCC test for this coming spring. The two testing windows for ELA and math will be combined into one; the number of test units will be reduced from eight or nine, depending on grade level, to six or seven; and the testing time for most students will be reduced by a total of 90 minutes.

On a statewide basis, the percentage of 8th graders who are proficient on PARCC is 40.4% in English language arts (ELA) and 32.1% in math. This corresponds to the 60th Illinois percentile in ELA and the 68th Illinois percentile in math.

Starting in 2011, District 65 began to report the percentage of students who were on track to college readiness on the ISAT using the 60th Illinois percentile in reading and the 68th in math as the benchmarks. These percentiles were identified by Paul Zavitkovsky of the Center for Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The table below shows the percentage of D65 8th grade students who were on track to college readiness in reading and math 1) on the 2014 ISAT, and 2) on the 2015 PARCC. While the percentile ranks for college readiness match up for the ISAT and PARCC tests, significantly lower percentages of District 65 students met the benchmarks for college readiness on the 2015 PARCC test than on the 2014 ISAT. It is unclear why this occurred.

For comparison purposes, the ACT was given to 11th graders at Evanston Township High School as part of the 2014 Prairie State Achievement Exam. At that time, 62% of all ETHS 11th graders met the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in reading, and 61% did so in math.

District 65 has also reported college readiness using scores identified in a 2012 Study prepared by Robert Theaker and Clay S. Johnson. The MAP scores identified in that study correspond at 8th grade to the 74th national percentile in reading and the 83rd in math (based on the 2015 NWEA MAP national norms study).

District 65 reported that 50% of its 3rd- through 8th- graders were on track to college readiness in reading and 39% were on track in math on 2015 MAP test.

The Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test recommends that the college readiness benchmark scores identified in a more recent 2015 Study, titled, “MAP College Readiness Benchmarks: A Research Brief” (June 29, 2015), an NWEA Research Report, by Yeow Meng Thum and Tyler Matta, be used, rather than those identified in the 2012 Study.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...