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McHenry County schools prep for second year of PARCC testing

School officials feeling better about exams

After grim yet somewhat unsurprising results from the first year of new rigorous state testing, McHenry County school officials are feeling a little better about the second go at PARCC, especially after a number of changes were made to the exam.

Testing for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is in full swing for the second time with some local schools having started in early March and others still preparing to begin.

McHenry Community High School District 156 students will take the PARCC test in late April, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Carl Vallianatos has a much better outlook on it than last year.

Unlike last year, the district will be testing its freshmen rather than its juniors. Testing students who were simultaneously worrying about college entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT made it hard to motivate students, Vallianatos said, adding the change will allow the district to put an emphasis on college entrance tests with juniors and on PARCC with freshmen.

“We’re more excited about PARCC this year from a logistical standpoint, too,” Vallianatos said. “We’re not going to be doing 10 hours of testing over two different months. That was tough to stomach.”

Instead, this year there is one testing window from March 7 to June 10 – changes that were announced by the Illinois State Board of Education following feedback from school officials about PARCC. Districts selected their own 30-day testing period within that time frame.

“The single testing window reduces the amount of time necessary to administer the assessment and allows teachers and students to spend more time on classroom instruction,” according to ISBE, which announced the start of PARCC testing in a recent news release.

The time most students will be tested also will be reduced by 60 minutes for the math portion and 30 minutes for English language arts, a change Cary School District 26 Superintendent Brian Coleman said he welcomes.

“The state has made some significant changes from last year,” Coleman said. “There were concerns over the number of tests and the amount of instructional time being used. I think the state listened to us on that.”

Some local districts are feeling more optimistic about the execution of the test because of internal changes.

Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, which started testing March 7, has a recently upgraded wireless infrastructure, which Assistant Superintendent of Technology Services Dave Jenkins said significantly improved the testing environment.

“Last year, we had fewer access points in our building so when you had a cluster of students taking the exam ... you could have students whose tests would just drop,” Jenkins recalled. “Last year, we could encounter those for up to five to 10 students per testing period. This year, there were almost no experiences with that.”

Last year, only about 30 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the new test across the state, and even fewer “approached” standards. In McHenry County, only two school districts out of 19 had more than 50 percent of students meet or exceed standards, based on composite scores.

As far as how students might do on the second round of PARCC, Erika Schlichter, Huntley School District 158 chief academic officer, was cautious about guessing how students might progress. District 158 students began testing Tuesday.

“Once we get our scores, we’ll analyze,” she said. “We know that last year there was quite a spread.”

Scott Kubelka, director of curriculum and assessment for Community High School District 155, made similar comments, but added it will likely be helpful that incoming freshmen have PARCC experience from eighth grade. Still, he said it’s likely going to take more than a couple of years before school districts can accurately measure progress.

“We talked about some of the things that have changed as a result of the first exam,” Kubelka said. “I suspect they’ll continue to make adjustments.

“Once the test remains consistent over a period of time, I’m sure the type of data will be richer than what we have now.”

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