Illinois’ First PARCC Results Lackluster


Illinois students did clear a high academic bar on the new state PARCC exams, which suggests that a majority of students are ill-prepared for the next grade level, and are unready for college or careers.

The preliminary results of the statewide testing completed last spring were released last week, and revealed how poorly students did on meeting the goal of the Common Core standards touted as preparation for higher education and excellence in the workplace.

Diane Rado of the Chicago Tribune reports that 26-36% of 3rd to 8th grade students “met” or “exceeded” expectations. When it came to English language arts/literacy, 33-38% reached the “met” or “exceeded” expectations mark.

Even worse, in high schools just 17% of students met or exceeded expectations in math and 31% met the benchmark in English language arts/literacy.

Districts had the choice of giving the exams in various grades correlating to the level of courses students were taking in math and English. Over 75% of students took the exam online, and results from students who took the exam with paper and pencil will be merged into the final results at a later date.

The results from PARCC exams are lower than any statewide tests since 2001 when the state launched the Prairie State Achievement Examination for high school juniors. Previously, the Illinois Standards Achievement Examination for grade school students had been adopted in 1999. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on these exams was never lower than 50% across the state in spite of the fact that the state made it tougher to pass the grade school tests.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams focus on critical thinking skills and problem-solving. The tests measure how much material in a grade that a student has learned. Getting a 4 or 5, met or exceeded expectations, is considered being prepared for the next grade level and on track for college and careers. PARCC represents a new baseline that schools and districts can use to build higher achievement in students.

“We’ve been writing and meeting with ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) officials for over two years to stop this madness. We’ve told them that our technology isn’t ready, our Common Core curriculum isn’t ready and the test will be hurting kids,” said Argo Community High School District 217 Superintendent Kevin O’Mara, who also is president of the Illinois High School District Organization.

But State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith told reporters that a lot will be learned from the tests. Where students need additional support, it will be provided, he added. He asked that no one use the results to shame teachers or schools, reports Elisa Crouch of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Illinois is one of 11 states and Washington, D.C., that gave the new testing which was developed by PARCC. Smarter Balance was another testing consortium which developed tests for 18 states.

WLS-TV Chicago explains the grading scale for the PARCC exams. The lowest ranking is Level 1 and means that the student has not reached basic grade-level expectations; Level 2 confers that the student partially met expectations; Level 3 represents that the student approached expectations; Level 3 shows that the student has met expectations; and Level 5 denotes that the student exceeded expectations.

The state really needed to upgrade its standards,” said Robin Steans, a former teacher who is executive director of the education reform group Advance Illinois. “It’s a necessary and useful thing. It’s not a simple thing. … If the state is saying to me, ‘Everything is fine,’ they’re not activating me as a parent.”