On Dec. 11, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the results of the 2015 PARCC test. That test replaced both the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), which was given to third- through eighth-graders, and the Prairie State Achievement Test (PSAE), which was given to eleventh-graders. PARCC is a consortium of states that participated in developing the new assessment. It began with 26 states and the District of Columbia; only five states and the District of Columbia remain.

At School District 202, a low percentage of students took the PARCC test. The results were disappointing.

Some Background on PARCC

The PARCC assessment was developed to gauge how well students are mastering the Common Core State Standards, and it is intended to require students to demonstrate critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills.

The PARCC test results give the percentage 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

In a prepared statement, ISBE said, “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 at the High School Level

At the elementary and middle-school levels, PARCC was given to all third- through eighth-graders. At the high school level, though, school districts were allowed to choose one of the following three-course combinations and to test only the students who took courses in those subjects.

• ELA (English Language Arts) 1, Algebra 1/Integrated Math 1

• ELA 2, Geometry/Integrated Math 2

• ELA 3, Algebra 2/Integrated Math 3

Evanston Township High School decided to administer PARCC to students taking ELA 1 and Algebra 1. Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at ETHS, told the RoundTable that administrators chose this option because only a small number of ETHS students take Algebra 1, and the school was able to give the ELA 1 and Algebra 1 tests in a way so students would lose only two days of instruction. If one of the other configurations were selected, he said, students would have lost four days of instruction.

Dr. Bavis added that ETHS wanted to “shield” juniors, who take the ACT and Advance Placement Tests, “from over testing,” as an additional reason to test freshman students taking ELA 1 and Algebra 1 on the PARCC test.

The Results at ETHS

On the ELA 1 test, 38.9% of ETHS students tested met or exceeded standards and were deemed “proficient.” In the remaining performance categories, 21% approached meeting standards, 21% partially met standards; and 19% did not meet standards.

“Of the 801 freshmen who were eligible to test for ELA 1, only 611, or 76%, tested,” said Dr. Bavis.

On Algebra 1, only 2.3% of ETHS students met or exceeded standards and were deemed “proficient.” In the remaining categories, 7% approached meeting standards, 51% partially met standards, and 40% did not meet standards.

Dr. Bavis said, “Very few students take 1 Algebra at the high school. Of the 258 students eligible to test in 1 Algebra only 144, or 56%, tested.”

Dr. Bavis added, “ETHS’ top students did not test in math. In fact, our average and above-average math students do not take 1 Algebra at ETHS. Currently, all District 65 students now take Algebra in eighth grade. Those students, with few exceptions, that take 1 Algebra at ETHS are repeating the course. This course, populated by our most struggling math students, does not come close to providing an accurate depiction of math at ETHS. “

Overall, Dr. Bavis said, “We don’t put much value in the results of the PARCC test. Many of our students didn’t participate in testing and we don’t know how many clicked through (the test). … Our focus as it pertains to testing really needs to be on continuing to prepare kids for college and career … so kids can do well on the SAT, ACT, Project Lead the Way, and AP tests. A freshman taking a PARCC test doesn’t give us that information.

“In contrast, nearly all of our juniors took the optional ACT here at ETHS last spring. If a test has value, students will take it. We see the same trend in our AP testing program, where 64% of our 11th- and 12th-graders took at least one AP exam in 2014-15. We have all time high ACT scores and all time high access to and success for students in AP courses.”

The chart below shows the percentage of students who tested proficient in ELA I and Algebra I by subgroup on PARCC test.

Low percentages of ETHS freshman took the PARCC test. It is important to read the accompanying text to interpret this chart.

Going Forward

Dr. Bavis anticipates that ETHS will be giving PARCC this spring. “We were told by the State to test the same pairing as last year: 1 Algebra and English 1. We have been told that it is a three-year contractual commitment with PARCC.”

He said ETHS will pay for juniors to take the ACT this year, because the State is no longer paying for the ACT. “We believe in providing juniors the opportunity to take a college admissions test as part of their high school experience,” he said.

Dr. Bavis noted that several weeks ago ISBE announced that it decided to accept the SAT as the college admissions test for Illinois. He said ETHS supports the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement tests, “because they directly impact college and career. … Both the ACT and SAT are college admissions tests, have the potential to be used for State accountability, and could be used to improve curricula. This is the trifecta. With the State moving to the SAT test, I think it would make a great fit.”

Larry Gavin

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...