After three years of PARCC testing, the Illinois State Board of Education hopes it can begin teasing out specific trends to help strengthen instruction and resource decisions, but some changes could also be on the way for the controversial exam that critics have called confusing and unreliable.
The board on Thursday released preliminary results from the statewide assessment, noting results on the math and English language arts (ELA) portions do not differ greatly than previous years’ scores – far less than half of students taking the exam are meeting or exceeding expectations.
But ISBE says PARCC also isn’t going away soon.
“The state will continue administering the accountability assessment and will remain a part of the PARCC consortium,” ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said in an email when asked if the state will stick with PARCC past 2018. “ISBE will continue to improve test administration, and the structure for developing the assessment may evolve, but the assessment itself will remain very similar to the one that students and teachers know today.”
“There will be no changes to the spring 2018 platform or overall format and only slight modifications to reduce overall testing time,” she said. “Improvements made for the spring 2019 administration will not require educators to make any changes to curriculum or instruction.”
The state’s four-year contract with Pearson to administer the exam expires after fiscal year 2018. About a half-dozen other states also use the exam.
Critics – including parent groups and the Chicago Teachers Union – have slammed the test for years, with some going as far as to encourage students to opt out of taking it.
This was the first year PARCC was administered only to grammar school students in Illinois after the state decided in 2016 it would stop giving it to high schoolers, replacing it with the SAT. Going forward, ISBE says it will also be able to develop a more state-focused PARCC exam.
“The PARCC consortium recently launched a more flexible assessment paradigm that allows member states to license PARCC’s high-quality test items in order to build custom, state-specific assessments,” Matthews said. “Illinois will have greater control over test length, administration vendor and the use of content developed by Illinois practitioners.”
On the 2017 version of the exam, Illinois students in grades three through eight typically scored slightly lower on the math portion than they did last year, and slightly higher in ELA. Forty percent of seventh graders met or exceeded expectations in ELA testing – the highest total of any individual grade – while sixth graders scored on the low end at 34.9 percent.
The range of scoring on math testing was much larger, with 39.2 percent of third graders meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to 26.9 percent of seventh graders.
“The preliminary state-level data show that we have built a solid foundation from which to attain equity and excellence for all students,” state Superintendent Tony Smith said in a statement. “Illinois educators have achieved a significant accomplishment in embracing the new Illinois Learning Standards, implementing the related instructional shifts, and adapting to the PARCC assessment over the past three years.”
Included in Illinois’ Every Student Succeeds Act plan is a goal to have 90 percent of third- through eighth-grade students meeting or exceeding expectations on statewide exams by 2032.
The exam is available both online and in pencil-and-paper form, but kids are increasingly taking it on a computer. ISBE said 87 percent of all students took the exam online, up over last year’s total of 85 percent.
Over three years of testing results, ISBE says there is a range of 5 percentage points between the highest and lowest ELA results across all grade levels, and a range of 10 points across math results. The board said the larger math gap is predominantly seen between third and fourth graders, and exists due to the “the increasing complexity of content” between those grades.
“It is clear that Illinois has work to do in order to ensure that every child is moving on the performance continuum toward mastery of the Illinois Learning Standards,” Smith said in a letter to the board, “but ISBE is very proud of the accomplishment of Illinois’ students and the commitment of Illinois’ teachers in embracing the standards and in implementing the related instructional shifts.”
Finalized scores, along with district- and school-level results and full participation numbers, won’t be available until late next month when the annual State Report Card is published.
Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMasterson
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