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Our View

Our View: PARCC test may disappoint, but it’s what we have

The idea behind the statewide PARCC tests, whose scores were released earlier this month, is sound.

Too many Illinois public school students go through school without gaining the requisite knowledge and skills needed for careers and college by the time they graduate.

For example, a common concern is that employers find numerous applicants deficient in what they need to know to succeed on the job.

If those deficiencies can be better identified early on, schools should then be able to take steps to remediate that lack of knowledge and skill before sending those students out into the world.

Apparently the state’s previous tests, such as the Prairie State Achievement Examination, which includes the ACT, and the Illinois State Achievement Test, failed to satisfactorily assess career and college preparedness.

Hence, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test was developed, and the state signed a four-year contract last year for Pearson Education Inc. to administer it at a cost of $160 million. The test was first administered to Illinois students this past spring.

The fact that results were not available for nearly half a year is worrisome, but it sounds like smoother test administration and scoring should be expected for future years. The statewide average of students who met or exceeded expectations on the PARCC test was 33 percent, which doesn’t seem to be all that good.

Locally, there are some school districts that were above that, including Plainfield School District 202 scoring 38 percent, Lockport Township 205 at 42 percent and Morris Community High School at 46 percent.

Most administrators locally view the scores as merely a baseline from which to measure future progress. Several noted the challenges of PARCC, such as it being a new test with more challenging standards than past exams. Some of them also said the test covered materials and skills students have not learned yet. 

We can sympathize with the difficulty of trying to hit a moving target, as this latest in a progression of statewide tests seems to represent.

Because the new scores can’t be compared to previous PSAE and ISAT scores, it may well take several years to discover the PARCC exam’s actual value to local educators and students.

The Illinois State Board of Education notes the new exam “is a drastically different test that uses extended tasks and technology-enhanced items to more accurately measure students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills” – skills where some students fall short.

More than one educator in Illinois has pointed out students who take the statewide test know its results won’t count against them, and thus may not be motivated to do the best they can. Be that as it may, the PARCC test is what public schools are stuck with for at least three more years. The problem of high school graduates who are poorly prepared for careers and college still exists.

Our state has contracted to spend $160 million to identify problem areas so that students can get help. That money should not be allowed to go to waste.

If PARCC doesn’t exactly hit the mark, educators, parents and students shouldn’t discount what it is trying to do – help produce students who are better prepared for their futures. Its results should be vigorously used for that purpose.

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