After five years under development, the PARCC test finally debuted in Illinois this week. School districts will give one portion of PARCC testing in March and a second piece in May. Districts have autonomy to figure out exactly when they are testing within a window of time, so some started March 3 and others will start in the coming days. But so far, there have been over 44,000 PARCC tests taken in Illinois and over 836,000 across the eleven states that are using this particular assessment.
I look at PARCC with a few different hats on. I’m a mom. I’m the president of the PTO at my daughter’s high school in Springfield. I’m a fairly new member of the State Assessment Review Committee. And I also work for Stand for Children, mostly looking at statewide education policies and advocating for meaningful improvements at the capitol.
Let’s just cut to the chase: PARCC’s way better than the old ISAT, but it sure isn’t perfect. If you asked a random sample of parents what they’d want in a test, they’d probably tell you they want their kid to critically think. To write. To research. To solve meaningful math problems without just filling in bubbles. And those are the goals of PARCC. But this is its first year and change is always hard.
So I thought I’d do a little compare and contrast for the blog today. Two things happened in Springfield this week that related to PARCC, one that was productive and solutions-oriented, and another that was a well-intentioned but misguided distraction:
- The encouraging: The State Assessment Review Committee (SARC) met on Tuesday. It’s not a PARCC lovefest by any means, but it’s a good group that cares about getting it right. The folks from PARCC attended. (They had come from a school to watch the testing in action and were headed afterward to “open office hours” to answer questions from districts.) They gave some updates and fielded a lot of questions. I learned that there is open-source software coming soon that teachers can use to integrate PARCC’s technology tools into classroom instruction—for free. We looked at the reports that parents would get back about their child’s performance and gave plenty of constructive feedback. Committee members raised bigger picture concerns for the future, asking whether PARCC might shorten the testing time, integrate it more seamlessly into the schedule, and communicate results more effectively with parents.
- The discouraging: A House committee passed a bill to formalize an “opt out” process for PARCC testing—the day after PARCC testing had already begun and at least a couple of months before it could realistically even take effect. The bill is well-intentioned, but not constructive. The most obvious concern is financial: If fewer than 95 percent of Illinois’ students take the state test, we will get penalized by the federal Department of Education—at most by withholding 1.3 billion dollars in federal Title funds—that is 13 percent of the total of all state and federal funds that go to Illinois schools. But it goes deeper than that. It’s an equity issue: Which kids will be “encouraged” to opt out so they won’t be counted for accountability? Which kids will slip through the cracks and become invisible? And just from a practical standpoint, if we don’t take the plunge and work toward implementation of this promising new test, we would stay stuck forever filling in bubbles on paper/pencil tests.
Let’s help PARCC improve by sticking with it, communicating feedback effectively and holding them accountable for making improvements as this rolls forward. Opting out will give us skewed data, more inequity, less spending flexibility and quite possibly less funding—but it gets us no closer to where we need to go to prepare every child for a successful future.