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Illinois high schools replacing PARCC with SAT

Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith (pictured on April 22, 2015) said in a press release: “District and school administrators overwhelmingly agree with ISBE that every high school junior should have access to a college entrance exam . . ." | Sun-Times file photo

Illinois is tossing the controversial PARCC standardized test this year for its high schoolers, relying instead on a redesigned SAT, the Illinois State Board of Education announced Monday.

The departure from the test, given in the last two years to high schoolers in certain classes plus all public school students in grades three through eight, is being touted as cutting back on standardized testing while providing equitable access to a college entrance exam required for admissions applications. ISBE said the decision was formed by conversations with parents, administrators, unions and others.

PARCC — the Partnership for the Achievement of Readiness for College and Careers — is supposed to measure college readiness with in-depth analytical questions, but in Chicago alone, about 10 percent of eligible students sat it out last year.

So ISBE will now pay every public high school junior to take the College Board’s SAT along with its writing component in the spring, and the SAT will count for Illinois’ annual test required by the federal government. Third- through eighth-graders will still take PARCC in the spring.

“District and school administrators overwhelmingly agree with ISBE that every high school junior should have access to a college entrance exam, a policy that promotes equity and access and that provides each and every student with greater opportunities in higher education,” State Supt. Tony Smith said in a press release.

ISBE did not say how much money was at stake with the changes, and the press office did not respond to emails. When it started testing 1 million students in 2014, Illinois spent abut $34 million on PARCC, about $4.5 million of that for high school students enrolled in certain math and English courses, according to ISBE.

Ben Boer, deputy director of the education policy group Advance Illinois, said the decision made sense in the short term because the new federal law governing education requires states to test high schoolers in the same grade — and PARCC was tied to courses rather than to a single year.

“They had to make a short-term decision on what to use for assessment and accountability in the coming year,” Boer said.

The announcement comes as Chicago Public Schools is moving closer to relying on PARCC to rate its hundreds of elementary schools and their teachers, and as Chicago’s juniors are about to join their colleagues in the rest of the state to take SAT instead of the ACT.

CPS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

PARCC was first given in Illinois two years ago, shortly after the state began teaching Common Core standards. That means next year’s juniors were not learning those standards for the bulk of their elementary school years.