McHenry County school superintendents happy with PARCC testing changes

Illustration by Scott Helmchen - shelmchen@shawmedia.com
Illustration by Scott Helmchen - shelmchen@shawmedia.com

School district superintendents across McHenry County are generally pleased in light of some recent changes made to the new standardized test tied to Common Core, officially administered for the first time this year.

In the past few months, students throughout the county sat down for the first official Partnership for Assessment of Readiness and College and Careers, or PARCC, testing.

In response to feedback from school districts and teachers after the test’s first official run, PARCC announced in a May 21 news release that its governing board voted to consolidate the two testing windows into one and to cut down testing time. The changes also include reducing the number of testing units, and all modifications will be implemented for next year’s testing.

For Cary District 26 Superintendent Brian Coleman, the news was welcome on several levels. The reduction in time – about 60 minutes will be cut from math and 30 minutes from English language arts testing – he said likely will bring some relief for both students and staff. Plus, the consolidation of the two testing windows will make the test logistically easier to administer.

“I think it provides a much better balance of testing time versus instructional time,” Coleman said. “Less time testing means more time learning, and I think that was a concern being voiced by most districts.”

Within District 26, and most others, the students took the tests completely electronically, which Coleman said meant computer labs were at full capacity for months.

“So only having one test will free up those labs for other instructional work,” he said.

PARCC is administered to students in grades three through eight, and once in high school.

For third-graders, the length of test time will be reduced to about 8.25 hours, compared to the roughly 9.75 hours students spent testing this year, according to literature provided by Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Matthew Vanover. The length of test time varies across grades, the literature shows, as do the reductions in time once the changes are realized.

As for the single testing window, it will be a window of up to 30 days between the 75 percent and 90 percent marks of the school year, according to the PARCC announcement.

“Most schools will complete testing in one to two weeks during that window,” it states.

Comparatively, students this year had to sit down for testing on two separate occasions, once at the 75 percent mark and again at the 90 percent mark.

Prairie Grove District 46 Superintendent Phil Bender said that meant students were testing in March, then again only two months later.

“So that piece, we’re really excited about,” Bender said.

It was a sentiment also expressed by Fox River Grove District 3 Superintendent Tim Mahaffy.

“The final assessment instrument ended up being two quite lengthy assessments very close together at the end of the year that measured different standards,” Mahaffy said in an email. “State testing and the makeups for those assessments can be very disruptive to an educational setting. And now it was happening twice during the year, rather than once with the previous ISAT assessments.”

To him, the PARCC changes will free more class time for students and eliminate unnecessary testing time.

Superintendents for District 47 and District 300, Kathy Hinz and Fred Heid, respectively, also made statements of approval.

“While I recognize there are still concerns regarding standardized testing, I do believe these changes are beneficial and provide our district with greater flexibility,” Heid said in a statement.

PARCC spokesman David Connerty-Marin said results from this year’s assessment will be out come fall. High school results likely will come in October and results for grades three through eight in November.

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