New PARCC scores: Only 1 in 5 CPS students can do enough math for college

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Just one in five Chicago Public Schools students can do enough math to get into college, results released Wednesday from the first-ever round of tougher, new tests for measuring college readiness show.

CPS students overall fared somewhat better in reading and writing — one in about four students in grades three through eight and in high school performed at the pace experts say they’ll need for a post-secondary education. Statewide, 37.7 percent of students — or one in three — earned a proficient score on the English Language Arts test and 28.2 percent — or one in four — on math, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

But 18 entire schools — 13 CPS high schools, two charter high schools, a charter elementary and two CPS grade schools — reported a zero percentage of students proficient in math, fifteen in reading. Another 176 schools reported fewer than one in ten or fewer students scoring proficiently in math — 102 more in reading.

The news from the PARCC tests administered last March and May seemed particularly abysmal for the district’s African American students. According to the tests, only one in eight black students is learning the math skills required for college and in reading, one in five.

“That’s what the national numbers have been telling us for years,” said Ben Boer, deputy director of Advance Illinois, an education policy group that championed PARCC as a deeper, more telling test than past state assessments.

He said Illinois’ funding formula has not kept up with all the supports African-American students need, adding, “There’s a lot that this calls on us to do.”

Boer said scores do feel low in PARCC’s first year but also that “we’re starting to be honest about where the proficiency levels are, and I think that’s really valuable that we’re being honest about that.”

PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Its tests were developed by a group of states with the idea of measuring tougher academic standards known as the Common Core and of comparing state results. Initially, PARCC consisted of 20-plus states; just 11 plus the District of Columbia tested this year and more since dropped out. The tests, taken in March and in May, replace the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for grades three through eight, and the Prairie State Achievement Examination previously given to high schoolers.

So far, PARCC carries no consequences.

Still, the test raised a stink in Chicago because it took about 10 hours per child — and because it hadn’t before been field-tested on a large scale. Former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett even tried to get a state waiver, saying many students lacked tech skills, but the state threatened to withhold federal funding, and offered a paper version. Schools argued that they had to shut down other activities to keep buildings quiet during long testing windows.

Some parents launched an opt-out campaign to get their children excused. The Illinois State Board of Education calculated an 89 percent participation rate in Chicago — but couldn’t say specifically why children didn’t test.

Critics complain that the time spent taking the test robs kids of valuable education time.

“Pretty much as soon as you tell any parent that some test that has no value for their kid and is possibly harmful for their kid is optional, then parents say, ‘Oh,” said Erin Franzinger Barrett, who works with special education students at Telpochcalli, where fewer than 60 percent of students took PARCC.

No sanctions were lodged against CPS, the district said.

Cassie Creswell of More Than A Score, which opposes the misuse of high-stakes testing, was troubled that the state board didn’t report on differences between students who tested on paper or on a computer, calling PARCC “the same illegitimate test that hasn’t been validated.”

If PARCC scores look low, it’s by ISBE design, she said.

“It’s just because you can set a cut score anywhere you want, and call it anything.”

Pearson, the British testing company that paid hundreds of millions to develop and administer the test in PARCC states, couldn’t provide results until late autumn. State superintendent Tony Smith has promised faster turnaround next year so schools can better use the information to guide instruction.

The state Board of Education would not make Smith available for interviews, saying he planned a press call Friday to discuss results.

Also Friday, CPS testing czar John Barker said parents will receive detailed information about their children that could spark deeper conversations with teachers.

As for CPS’ scores, Barker said the district still had work to do but stressed that “this is a baseline test.”

“There are levels in there that suggest that students are making some progress. . . . It’s not that these students don’t have some command of the materials,” he said.

At Burroughs Elementary School, where 94 percent of children are low-income, scores bested CPS’ average, with 39.9 percent of children proficient in reading and 37.9 percent in math.

Principal Richard Morris chalked it up to longtime staff members who plan incessantly and collaborate to keep up with children’s needs. He said his staff paid close attention while transitioning to Common Core to make sure no skills were lost.

The Brighton Park school also doesn’t do test prep.

“When you do test prep, you take away from instruction. It’s such a waste of time, such a waste of money. You don’t sustain any achievement either if — this is a big if — if any test prep helps  kids to perform on a higher level on that day.”

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