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PARCC will count in CPS teacher and school ratings

Parents picket outside the North Side office of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on April 6, 2016, demanding that he unblock a bill that lets parents opt their children out of standardized tests. | Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

A controversial computerized test will have real consequences for Chicago Public Schools teachers and students as soon as September 2017, according to CPS’ latest testing plans.

That’s to the horror — but not surprise — of teachers and a coalition that has been trying to minimize standardized testing in the district.

In the 2017-18 school year, CPS will rely on the standardized and state-required PARCC test, which has been administered two times in Illinois with zero stakes attached, district officials wrote in a recent draft of the district’s standardized testing plans obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The upcoming school year is “intended as final year of NWEA MAP, with a full transition to PARCC in SY18,” they wrote, citing the alignment of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness For College and Careers to Common Core standards.

“Final decisions have not been made regarding potential modifications to District accountability metrics,” district spokesman Michael Passman said in an emailed statement, “and we are evaluating all options to ensure accountability tools provide educators with actionable data to improve student outcomes while offering families an accurate picture of school performance.”

PARCC has been touted as an in-depth look not only at what students know but also at how they arrive at their answers, though critics say it’s too long and contains faulty questions. The number of states giving the hours-long test to students this past school year has dwindled to seven plus the District of Columbia.

Currently, Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress test scores are used to rate elementary schools and evaluate teachers. CPS pays for those tests. PARCC is funded by the state.

Results count for up to 65 percent of an elementary school’s rating that ranges from a 1+ at the top to a 3 at the bottom.

They’ve been part of CPS student applications for elite selective enrollment high schools and academic centers, too.

The scores count for up to 20 percent of an evaluation for teachers in grades three through eight, said Jen Johnson, the Chicago Teachers Union’s teacher evaluation facilitator, which has lobbied in vain against using any standardized test scores to evaluate instructors.

“We’ve anticipated that CPS would try to move to using PARCC for everything. It was just a matter of when they were going to push it,” she said. “Obviously we disagree. It will lead to some discussion . . . at bargaining” over a new contract that expired a year ago.

“What’s surprising is that they’ve managed to put it off this long,” said Cassie Creswell of the anti-testing group More Than a Score.

“It’s hugely problematic to think they should use it for high stakes of any purpose” because the test is so new, Creswell said.

More than 10 percent of eligible CPS kids skipped the test in the 2014-15 school year. And a growing portion of PARCC is graded by computers, including extended answers and essays, few of which are rechecked by human beings, she said.

PARCC itself is “agnostic on how the assessments are to be used,” PARCC spokeswoman Heather Reams said. That’s up to individual states, several of which currently use the scores to determine graduation eligibility or student placement, and the rest have plans to do so, she said.