New Student Assessments: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Beginning March 9, EPG will administer the new PARCC assessment to our students for the first time. This new assessment, mandated by the Illinois Sate Board of Education, replaces the old ISAT and PSAE tests as a measure of student’s academic achievement. The new state assessment, originally adopted by twenty-six state and now being administered by only eleven states and the District of Columbia, is aligned to the Common Core Standards and the New Illinois Learning Standards, was designed to measure whether students are on track for success in college and careers.

Change comes with challenges. The status quo was not working for Illinois schools as there were many criticisms of the ISAT and PSAE. Much of the criticism focused on the lack of comparability between the two tests, developed by different entities for different purposes. The ISAT was developed, more or less, as an assessment of student’s mastery of Illinois standards in Math, Reading, and Science for grades 3 through 8. The PSAE is not one test but a combination of two.  The first test administered is the ACT, commonly used as a college entrance test. The second test was a test of basic work force readiness skills in Math and Reading. The two tests, created for very different reasons, were not effective in measuring student achievement in grades 3 through 11.

The criticisms of the old assessments often pale in comparison to the criticisms of the new PARCC assessment. First and foremost is the political environment that surrounds adoption of the Common Core Standards. Many believe these standards were forced upon states by the federal government. In reality, they were developed by the states but incentivized by the current administrations Race to the Top program. Any assessment connected to the CCS was bound to get caught up in the political debate as well.

The positive news about the PARCC assessment is that we finally have an assessment program developed by one company that is vertically aligned grades 3 through 11. That means that we can compare an individual student’s performance from one year to the next. The test is also developed from the new standards. The PSAE was not truly aligned to state standards and many wondered if the ISAT was as well. That is where most of the good news ends.

The concerns over PARCC, and standardized testing in general, are numerous.

·     Colleges and universities do not accept PARCC for admission and there is no indication that they will be changing their position. One of the motivational aspects of the PSAE was that many students wanted to do well on the ACT, which counted for most of the test. That element is now lost.

·     Schools will administer the ACT again this year, but the state is not funding the assessment beyond 2015. 

·     Students that do not have the resources to pay the fee for the ACT are at a disadvantage for college enrollment.

·     Schools are the guinea pigs for Pearson (PARCC developer), no baseline data exists because of unusually limited development. That means this first administration of PARCC will establish the baseline by which future growth will be evaluated.

·     Pearson has proven to be ill prepared during test administrations of the assessment. Many schools experienced system crashes that were on Pearson’s end during the trials.

·     Many schools do not have access to the necessary bandwidth or hardware to administer the test electronically. With so many schools set to administer the test at the same time, no one knows for sure what will happen to servers and networks. This element alone has created a great deal of apprehension.

·     PARCC was intended to measure student growth in real time and provide feedback for teacher instruction through quarterly administration.  Instead, the test will be broken into two parts and administered in close succession.

·     Results will not be available until the fall and it is unclear what schools will actually receive.

·     The loss of instructional time will be more acute for high school students who will be taking PARCC, the ACT, AP exams, and final exams from March through May. Ten to fifteen instructional days may be lost.  While students in the lower grades will not lose as much instructional time due to testing, we still believe the amount is significant.

·     High-stakes testing is an attempt at a one-size-fits-all solution.  The increase in standardized testing has not provided the desired growth and is mainly a reaction to the problems of schools with high levels of urban poverty.

·     The Illinois Board of Education has proven ill-prepared for the rollout of such an ambitious initiative.  Instructions for implementation were not finalized until just a few weeks ago. Tech capacity varies widely throughout the state and no assistance was provided for district (another unfunded mandate) 

The news is better at EPG! Our teachers, support staff, technology staff, and administrators have been working diligently to prepare our students for the PARCC test.  The practice tests and technology trials have been successful. Our equipment and bandwidth are up to the task ahead. Like any new program there will be ups and downs, but EPG is ahead of the pack in preparation for the PARCC. Our level of preparation is due to our staff who are deeply dedicated to teaching children. They are personally and professionally invested in student success. We are very fortunate to have the outstanding teachers, paraprofessionals, technology personnel, and administrators that we have here at EPG! We will be prepared for whatever comes our way!

Finally, I want to extend a special thanks to our custodial and maintenance staff as well as our bus drivers.  While this winter has not been as bad as last year, there have been plenty of challenging conditions. Our custodians and maintenance staff get out early on the snowy days to make sure everyone can get where the need to go! Our bus drivers carefully deliver our students to school and back home every day! Without a dedicated staff, the challenge of educating students would be much harder! Keep up the great work!


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