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CPS wants to delay new standardized exam; state's answer is still 'No'

The standardized tests Illinois schoolchildren had taken for years have been handed in for the last time.

The 2013-14 school year marked the last time students would take the Illinois State Achievement Test (commonly called the ISAT) or Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE).

In their place is a new test, the PARCC (it stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). State officials say they’re ready to roll out that new test this spring for all 3rd- through 8th-graders and some high schoolers, with the Illinois State Board of Education about to place an order to have enough tests for every public school student in Illinois.

That’s in spite of Chicago Public Schools’ recent request and ongoing lobbying efforts for another year’s reprieve from the new test. The district’s schools “are simply not ready for the full-scale implementation of the test” and “the testing demands on students and burdens on teachers and principal … will be overwhelming,” CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett wrote to the state board in June.

State superintendent of schools Christopher Koch said all schools and districts must administer the PARCC under the federal No Child Left Behind Act because the state accepts federal money for poor students under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That law requires the state to give the same standardized test to all Illinois schoolchildren or risk losing those federal dollars.

“The state has no authority to waive or delay the testing,” Koch said earlier this week.

“We must be fair to all districts. We can’t single out one district and provide special treatment,” he added. “And taking another test wouldn’t be valid for accountability purposes as approved by the department. This would be a clear violation of federal law.”

Koch never mentioned CPS, though he did refer to the one district that formally requested a waiver but was denied.

Byrd-Bennett said at an Oct. 22 Board of Education meeting that she would lobby ISBE and the federal Department of Education to grant CPS a waiver — or at least more time to fully implement PARCC. She did not mention that CPS wrote to ISBE in June asking for a reprieve and got a letter back in July telling them “no.”

CPS students in 2nd through 8th grades, she said, already take the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress tests in May; those tests count toward school ratings, student admissions to elite academic programs and teacher evaluations.

Adding PARCC in either March or May would double the tests students are taking at that time.

Several parent groups who’ve protested over-testing and who pointed out problems with sample PARCC tests they tried to take were thrilled to count Byrd-Bennett as an ally.

Wendy Katten, of the parent group Raise Your Hand Illinois, said the state is required to give a test to all students but it doesn’t have to be the PARCC. Illinois has chosen PARCC despite parent concerns that the test is confusing, requires specific technological skills and isn’t ready, Katten said.

Some 100,000 students in about 1,200 schools statewide field-tested the PARCC last year. They wanted to check the directions and operations, both online and when using pencil and paper. No results were generated.

Koch described PARCC as “not the typical multiple-choice test that many of our schools and students are accustomed to.

“This test will require students to apply knowledge in solving problems,” Koch added. “These are the higher-order critical thinking skills that have been asked for and shown as so important by the business community, employers and higher education for a number of years.”