PARCC survey: Better than ISAT but maybe not on grade level

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Students across the country, including these students in New Mexico, have protested the PARCC test. But a new survey says it is better in some ways than Illinois’ previous standardized test, the ISAT. | File Photo

The new standardized PARCC test — in its second day of testing in Illinois — is better than the old ISAT test, but still has some problems that concern teachers.

That’s according to a survey of about 1,000 teachers in Illinois and elsewhere, nearly 80 percent of whom rated PARCC higher quality than prior state tests, conducted by Teach Plus and released Tuesday.

Teach Plus, a national urban teacher-training organization that has been funded by the Gates Foundation, led the teachers in Illinois, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., at workshops in the fall. The teachers were shown sample questions, then surveyed about PARCC: How well is PARCC aligned to common core standards? How well does PARCC measure critical thinking? Are PARCC questions varied enough?

RELATED: Ald. Ricardo Munoz empathizes with parents’ stress over PARCC test

“It is better in comparison than ISAT,” Susan Volbrecht, co-author of the report and an elementary school teacher on Chicago’s Southwest Side, said referring to the former Illinois Standards Achievement Test. “It isn’t free of concerns, but in comparison with most existing tests, most of the teachers responded that they prefer PARCC.”

Nearly 70 percent of the teachers surveyed believed that PARCC, which asks students to write answers out and draw comparisons, does “very well or extremely well in measuring critical thinking skills.” But they were not convinced that PARCC is “appropriately rigorous for the grade level,” with only 49 percent agreeing with it’s appropriate and 47 percent saying it dives too deep.

Teachers at the Chicago event worried about the range of questioning, Volbrecht said, saying students needed too much background knowledge from life experience to understand some of the reading passages, so the test “wouldn’t be able to get a fair assessment of reading comprehension skills.”

But the report did not tackle larger concerns dealing with tech preparedness and the many other tests students are given, Volbrecht said.

CPS’ testing window for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers began Monday for its 230,000 students in third- through eighth-grade and high schoolers enrolled in Algebra I, English I, or Integrated Math I.

Though CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that many CPS students lacked the technology skills to take the test, she relented to the state requirements, saying the district couldn’t afford to lose $1.4 billion in attached funding.

Meanwhile, some parents are having their children refuse the test; some say CPS students spend too much time on standardized testing, or that PARCC’s questions are beyond grade level. It’s not yet known how many children have refused, though a few schools have reported rates of at least 70 percent and the anti-testing group More Than A Score has mapped schools where parents have reported children refusing.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said testing problems were limited Tuesday. Logandale Middle School had some login trouble, he said.

Unlike the rest of the state, CPS students still have to take another test so the district can rate their teachers and schools. That NWEA MAP test will be given in April, around the same time as the second part of PARCC.

Tuesday evening, three South Side aldermen plan to try PARCC questions at Morrill Elementary School, 6011 S. Rockwell St., where computers are being set up for parents to give the new test a go as well.

Toni Foulkes (15th), Matt O’Shea (19th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd) will join a discussion and try sample questions, according to the Chicago Teachers Union, which decries the 15-to-20 standardized tests given to CPS students that are mandated not by the state but by the Board of Education.

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