‘Sobering’ PARCC scores show 60% of Illinois students unprepared

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Cassie Creswell, of More Than a Score, passed out fliers on the PARCC test outside Otis Elementary School on Thursday, March 19, 2015. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

Between 60 to 70 percent of public school students in Illinois are not on track to succeed in college or a career, according to preliminary “sobering” scores from the PARCC standardized test the Illinois State Board of Education released Thursday.

Illinois students in grades three through eight and some high schoolers appear to have lost a little ground in reading scores but gained in math. The high school students earned the lowest scores of all.

Statewide, students determined to meet or exceed expectations in English and language arts ranged from just 34.1 percent in high school to 37.3 percent in seventh grade. In math, it was 21.8 percent among high schoolers and 39.6 percent in third grade.

But it’s too soon to say why without looking at whose scores changed and where those students are enrolled, state superintendent Tony Smith said. Nor would the ISBE yet say how many students “opted out” of the test by refusing to take it. About one in 10 test-eligible students in Chicago Public Schools sat it out last year.

“The work to really have kids to engage meaningfully and successfully in the workforce and higher ed, we’ve got a long way to go,” Smith said on a conference call. “This is the part that is sobering. There is considerable distance to travel to have every single one of our young people ready, and currently that’s not the case.”

ISBE testing official Angela Foxall was careful to note that no single test “represents the whole of a child, educator or school system and that multiple measures are necessary to accurately gauge student progress.” She said the earlier turnaround of results this year leads to “the healthy use of this data.”

ISBE will publicize its full district-by-district results at the end of October, when school report cards are issued statewide.

PARCC — The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness of College and Career — is designed to measure how well students have mastered Common Core learning standards needed to prepare for college. Longer and more interactive than previous state standardized tests, PARCC makes students show their work and explain their answers. But its length and glitches around the software and technology — about 15 percent of students statewide took a paper version, down from 25 percent last year — have led many parents to protest and have their children opt out of the test.

Some of those complaints were addressed when ISBE dropped the number of sessions for public school students from two in the inaugural year to just one this past spring.

But the test won’t be given any longer to high schoolers because a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, known as ESSA, requires high school students to take the same standardized test in the same year, and PARCC was given to students enrolled in several courses rather than students in any particular grade.

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