U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Thursday he’s staying out of a tussle between the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools over whether CPS students will take a new Common Core-aligned standardized test this spring — at least for now.
Illinois is set to begin the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test this spring, replacing the elementary level Illinois Standards Achievement Test and high school level Prairie State Achievement Examination with brand-new tests aligned to Common Core state standards that are supposed to be tougher and require more critical thinking skills.
But CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said she wants to delay the implementation for at least another year, telling the CPS Board last month that too many question remain about the new test.
She has also said not all schools have the necessary computers and bandwidth to support the online version of the test.
“I don’t know all the details. That’s actually something CPS has to work out with the state,” Duncan said while visiting Farragut Career Academy. “. . . Well, I think the state and CPS need to work that out together.”
In a letter sent to CPS in July, the Illinois Board of Education wrote that the state cannot jeopardize its federal funding for poor children by granting CPS an exception to the law requiring the test.
Some CPS parents are also behind a campaign, called “Park the PARCC,” aimed at postponing the testing.
Duncan visited the Little Village high school and its After School Matters students Thursday afternoon, getting a glimpse of the school’s lifeguard training, computer skills and art programs. He said Chicago’s after school programs are a model for what the rest of the nation should be doing.
“I don’t know if there’s a city that at scale has taken these types of things, the diversity of offerings and the number of schools,” Duncan said. “You can always learn from other cities. No one has a market of all the best ideas but I’m just so proud of what’s happening here in Chicago. Yes, we should learn from other places, but I think the rest of the nation has something to learn from what’s right and what’s going on here.”
Duncan earlier visited Hales Franciscan High School on the South Side and met with university leaders to listen to ways they’re helping students connect with higher education institutions.
Calling Duncan “the staunchest champion of small schools” when he served as the CEO of CPS, Hales Franciscan President Jeffrey Gray led the roundtable discussion at the high school.
“I think you can be strong and fragile or you can be small and strong,” Duncan said of small schools. “What if every junior or senior had the opportunity to take a college-level class? . . . If this could be a school where that was the norm, where every single kid worked hard and had a chance to take a college class someplace, for parents as you try to look for places, I think that’s a pretty powerful story.”
Sonya Malunda, of the University of Chicago, said there’s a “reciprocal benefit” to having high school students on a college campus and being part of college programs.
She also said the U. of C. has 350 university students working as tutors and mentors in 50 schools on the South Side, including Hales.
Angela Henderson, provost at Chicago State University, told Duncan a dual enrollment partnership with Hales Franciscan allows students to see the diversity of its campus and to understand the opportunities that a college degree brings.