PARCC exam changes on the way in McHenry County schools

Education experts have mixed feelings about what's next

CRYSTAL LAKE – Changes could be coming to Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams, and McHenry County education officials have mixed feelings about what could come next.

The Illinois State Board of Education issued a request this month for someone to redesign the standardized PARCC test, which assesses students in third through eighth grade and is the only large-scale summative accountability assessment that meets federal guidelines, according to ISBE documents.

ISBE wants the improved test to return results faster, include native language options and in time, lead to a computer-adaptive test structure. The agency’s maximum budget for the three-year contract, with options to renew a one-year contract three times through 2024, is $216 million, according to ISBE documents.

The board launched PARCC in 2015, and it was met with some protest from parents and teachers. Across Illinois, scores were low. The state considered 33 percent of Illinois students ready for the next school year, on average, based on 2017 PARCC data, and 46 percent ready for college, on average, from the 2016 data.

Changes to the model shouldn’t affect student learning and curriculum, state Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement.

“Illinois intends to continue its commitment to the highest-quality assessment, while continuing to innovate to meet the needs of educators,” Smith said. “The assessment will improve and evolve, but the level of rigor, the majority of test items and the underlying skills, concepts and standards assessed will remain constant.”

Mary Endres Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Amy Varys said that if the test is revamped, there are several things she wants to see come to fruition, such as a quicker turnaround on results and less time spent on the test. PARCC exams typically take a week to finish, she said.

“I think standardized tests have a place in education, but I am glad they are looking at ways to make it better for students,” she said. “I don’t really see any problems with PARCC other than it does take a long time … but it will be nice to have that immediate feedback.”

Varys said PARCC results typically don’t come back until after the school year is over, which makes it impossible to adjust instruction to meet students’ needs.

Curriculum won’t change because the test still will be based on Common Core, but the knowledge of where student understanding is at could drive instruction, she said.

McHenry County Regional Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn generally is “pro-PARCC” because it’s more rigorous than previous standardized testing. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, she said.

“I do agree there have to be changes,” she said. “It is too long. ... It can also be difficult to find enough Chromebooks or technology to test everyone at once. All of this takes away from instructional time and is disruptive for students.”

She said quicker turnaround on results would be a lot better for teachers and students.

Some district officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to talk of change.

“As with any change coming at a statewide level, we have to wait to see what the state decides,” said Dan Armstrong, Huntley School District 158’s director of communications and public engagement. “We prefer consistency in assessment, but will have to wait to see how large of a change is coming. We will continue to focus on student learning and educating the whole child. The state test is just one factor that we evaluate in making sure we’re meeting students’ needs.”

Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 Superintendent Kathy Hinz had similar sentiments.

“There are a lot of unknowns at this point with PARCC,” Hinz said. “We hope that the state either adapts the PARCC test to be less time-consuming with more real-time results, or allows school districts the flexibility to choose from a menu of assessment options that meet federal requirements and provide real-time results in less testing time.”

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