As he’d been warning, the Illinois state superintendent of education revealed startlingly low preliminary scores from an involved and controversial new standardized test Wednesday.
Illinois became the first of the 11 states and the District of Columbia that use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test to release any results, albeit, only statewide scores from children who took the test online. Pencil-and-paper exams also were given but were not yet ready, and the scores could not yet be reported by district or student.
What Supt. Tony Smith revealed was a vast majority of those students in Illinois were not yet proficient in math or English language arts, with only between 28 percent and 38 percent of third- through eighth-graders meeting state standards. The percentage of high-schoolers in Algebra I or Integrated Math I who exceeded standards was zero; 17 percent met them.
More Illinois students were proficient in English than in math, except for third-graders. Of the five performance levels approved Wednesday by the Illinois State Board of Education, only children who score in levels 4 or 5 are considered proficient. That said, the test carries no consequences for anyone this year.
Smith called the preliminary scores a baseline for going forward, and said that the results alone don’t tell the whole story.
“I think we should use this new test as a new starting point for our conversations about progress, and what our kids need to be ready for the next level of what’s coming in the future,” he said.
In March, PARCC replaced the Illinois State Achievement Test previously administered to grade school students and the Prairie State Achievement Examination for 11th graders. While those tests asked for multiple choice answers during a few hours, PARCC — given over several days and at two different points in the school year — tests math and English literacy by asking in-depth questions and asking students to show their work.
Smith warned against comparing the new tests with the old since they’re so different. However, parents are sure to notice, for example, that the range of students proficient on last year’s ISAT was about 25 percentage-points higher.
Robin Steans, director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois, called PARCC an honest improvement over the ISAT so parents and teachers can intervene with struggling children sooner.
“This isn’t ‘The sky is falling.’ This is a reset. It’s an appropriate reset. It’s a long overdue reset,” she said. “Over time, it’s going to prove out to be a stronger instrument.”
But the Chicago Teachers Union accused PARCC of being inappropriate for the target grades “and coyly designed for students to fail.”
“If you believe these scores have merit, I have some swampland in Brooklyn to sell you — and a lot of it,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “These scores have very little to do with how children learn.”
The parent group Raise Your Hand, which has been lobbying for a law to let parents opt their children out of PARCC, maintained that the test is “a blatant waste of scarce resources in a state that ranks at the bottom of the nation for state funding of public education and near the top for inequity across rich vs. poor school districts,” director Wendy Katten wrote. “Our state and city’s education leaders must stop using test scores to attack schools rather than support them.”
In Chicago, many parents kept their children from taking PARCC, saying that the test itself wasn’t ready to be administered on a mass scale, and that CPS’ children also had to take another test each spring that counts toward teacher and school evaluations.
Former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett tried to persuade state officials to let CPS skip PARCC, arguing that many CPS children lacked the necessary computer skills. But threats from the former state superintendent to withhold $1 billion from federal funding tied to standardized testing under the federal No Child Left Behind law forced her hand.
As a result, many children purposely skipped the test, though neither CPS nor the Illinois State Board of Education could say how many. Data originally reported by Catalyst Chicago showed that principals self-reported 9,600 opt-outs among Chicago public schoolchildren.
ISBE will know how many opted out when district- and student-level scores become available, perhaps not until late November, Smith said. State report cards and individual student reports are normally published on Nov. 1.
“We’re a little bit in the dark. I don’t know a good answer of when we’re going to get all the data back from Pearson,” Smith said. “So we’ve been pushing as hard as we possibly can.”
Pearson, the British company holding a multimillion-dollar contract to administer PARCC in Illinois, said a statement that it was honoring all agreed-upon deadlines.
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Some Chicago parents rallied against PARCC, saying, among other things, the test wasn’t ready to be administered on a mass scale. | Sun-Times file photo