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Early PARCC scores don’t paint the whole picture

On Wednesday this week, the Illinois State Board of Education released some preliminary 2014-15 PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test results. Though the data is still incomplete, the aggregate scores are raising some concerns.

As reported in the Chicago Sun-Times:
"What Supt. Tony Smith revealed was a vast majority of those students in Illinois were not yet proficient in math or English language arts, with only between 28 percent and 38 percent of third- through eighth-graders meeting state standards. The percentage of high-schoolers in Algebra I or Integrated Math I who exceeded standards was zero; 17 percent met them."

These results were not entirely unexpected, so the early scores should not cause alarm.

The new PARCC tests were given for the first time to third and eighth graders and high school students last spring. The exams replace the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) for grade-school students and the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) for 11th graders.

As has been seen before in Illinois and across the country, the first year students take a new state assessment is a learning period for everyone. Scores on new assessments are often lower than on previous ones, both in aggregate and individual data.

With any new test aligned to the relatively new Common Core State Standards, there will be growing pains. When considering Illinois’ preliminary PARCC scores, it is important to understand that:

  • PARCC is a new test with new expectations. It replaces previous tests and is more closely aligned with the new Common Core State Standards, which make clear what students should know and be able to do in math and English/language arts to be ready for college and career.
  • Because it is new, the results look different and may be lower. This does not mean any student suddenly knows less, it just means something new is being measured.
  • These first results are a snapshot in time. They are a starting point which will allow educators and parents to see how students currently compare with their peers in other states in English/language arts and math.
  • This is a transition year. These results are a new baseline to measure student progress and will not be used for accountability.
  • Test results cannot capture a child’s potential or the scope of his or her abilities. The PARCC results are only one measure of students’ performance in two key subjects.
  • This first year is a learning year. The results will give educators and schools the opportunity to adjust programs and instruction to improve future results.

It is also important to note that the picture painted by these early results is incomplete.

Only state-level test data is available at this time, not individual student scores or district-specific data. The results include only those tests taken online, which account for about 75 percent of the total tests taken.

Educators’ voices must be key as the state moves forward with PARCC. The IFT has worked to ensure that as professionals, teachers have a say about implementation, accountability, and other aspects of the Common Core standards and PARCC testing. It is critical that educators receive test data in a timely fashion and have the necessary resources to effectively adjust instruction and improve future test results, and the IFT will continue to advocate for that.  

The IFT will also continue to insist that PARCC results are not used as a significant measure to judge teacher and school quality. In a letter sent last week to superintendents about the release of the PARCC scores, Supt. Smith reaffirmed ISBE's position on accountability.

"These results are only one of many factors that inform our accountability system," Smith wrote. "We will never use test scores in isolation to drive school interventions or personnel decisions. We all understand that no test can ever fully capture the inspiring skills and abilities of a great teacher or the extraordinary benefits and positive impact of a great school."
Teachers, parents, school administrators, and others can stay up-to-date on the latest PARCC news and find helpful resources on ISBE's new PARCC Place website.



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