By Kelly Youngblood
A new standardized test is raising new questions for parents, and the answers aren’t as straightforward as you might think.
In early March, thousands of third through 8th grade students throughout Illinois will be administered the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment.
The PARCC assessment is a new standardized test that is aligned with the Common Core Standards. It replaces the Illinois Standard Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam.
But the test, which is designed to provide information to teachers, parents, and administrators on a student’s readiness for success after school, has drawn some criticism from parents who say the test is too long, takes away valuable instruction time, and it could cause unnecessary stress for students. Some also question whether districts have adequate technology resources to administer the computer-based test.
The test also has some parents considering whether or not to opt their child out of taking it. (more over here)
Both the Champaign and Urbana school districts are directing parents who are contemplating opting their children out from the test to a letter written by ISBE State Superintendent Christopher Koch.
In short, the letter states, “students are asked to complete the assessments rather than opt out.” It goes on to say districts can form their own “opt-out” policy, but ISBE does not provide any guidance on how a district or school can provide an “opt-out” because such an option would “violate the law.”
While there is no such policy in place at Champaign Unit 4 School District, Dr. Susan Zola, Assistant Superintendent for achievement, curriculum and instruction, said students wouldn’t face any consequences for opting out.
Dr. Zola said it’s hard to know if the test will have any negative impact until the first round of assessments is completed.
“We piloted some last spring which has helped us prepare our infrastructure to ensure that the wireless capacity, needed computers, etc. are in place to make the actual testing situation as optimal as possible,” Dr. Zola said.
The PARCC test is being mandated by federal law, which requires states receiving Title 1 funds to “provide for the participation in the state’s academic assessment of all designated students.” The ISBE letter says that districts allowing students to opt out of the test would be violating federal and state law, which could threaten their state and federal funding.
Charles Schultz is the parent of a fourth grader at Carrie Busey Elementary in Champaign who had initial concerns about his child taking the PARCC assessment. In fact, he was so against it he voiced his concerns in a letter to his child’s teacher and principal.
Schultz’s concerns included questions about the vendor, the test questions themselves, and the high-stakes the tests will play in teacher evaluations. But after talking with his PTA representative, the Director of Assessments at the Illinois State Board of Education, and several others, Schultz says he no longer feels strongly opposed to PARCC.
Although he believes some undesirable issues still remain such as teacher training being rushed and unfamiliarity with the test software causing teachers to take extra class time to have students practice the test, Schultz views the tests differently now.
“My conversation with (ISBE Director of Assessments) has been so encouraging that I am excited about what is potentially coming down the pike; perhaps an open source testing platform, and perhaps a more organic method of assessing student growth,” Schultz said.
Urbana School District 116 spokeswoman JoAnne Geigner said the PARCC is designed to assess more than just knowledge and reading comprehension but is meant to assess thinking skills and depth of understanding, which can be harder to measure.
But she doesn’t think the test detracts from a student’s educational experience.
“These measures are exactly the kind of thinking that we hope is happening every day in every classroom, so we are not viewing PARCC as a loss of instructional time, but as an extension of the quality instruction that should be happening in every classroom, every day. It is a much more powerful assessment than the ISAT ever was,” Geigner said.
Susan Wilson, Superintendent of the Blue Ridge School District in Farmer City, said parents cannot opt their child out of the testing but they can keep their child home on testing days. The district is required to do make-up testing with students who are absent but that has to be done within the “testing window.”
Wilson said the impact of students not taking the test would vary for the district and be based on the skill level of the students who missed the test.
For example, if a student has a high skill level and does not take the test, then the district scores might be lower than they would be otherwise. If a student has a low skill level then the district scores might be higher than they would otherwise be, Wilson said.
What do you think? Will you take your child out of PARCC testing?