Only 37% of Illinois Students Passed PARCC’s Reading and Writing Assessment

Fox Illinois reported earlier this month that only 37 percent of 3rd-8th graders in Illinois passed the PARCC’s reading and writing assessment.

Nearly two-thirds of Illinois students in 3rd through 8th grade are not up to standard for reading and writing, according to the state administered PARCC test and some parents said it would be best to go back to the basics.

“Every student is different and my opinion is if you really want to show a difference in any kind of testing at all, turn the classroom back over to the teachers, let the teachers teach, get the testing out,” Mike Foster, parent of an Illinois student said.

But not all agree that the testing should be what the standard is based upon for students to be considered.

“Minimize the standardized testing. It’s ok to have certain guidelines and make sure they’re adhering to certain minimal guidelines. But overall just let the teachers teach,” Foster said. Administrators said they are working hard to make sure their students don’t run into similar problems so every student can be ready for their future.

Predictably, the Illinois State Board of Education blamed the result on the test’s difficulty.

Read the whole article here.

Common Core is taking these students in the wrong direction. This story from Illinois brought to mind two articles that we’ve highlighted at Truth in American Education, both are from 2016, but nothing significant has happened since with the ELA standards to diminish their relevancy.

The first article was written by Jay Matthews who warned about the direction of writing instruction under Common Core in The Washington Post.

The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for students from low-income households, has been peeking recently at what is happening inside classrooms, an intrusion rarely done because it is expensive and tends to expose unattractive realities.

The organization collected 1,876 school assignments from six middle schools in two large urban districts in two states. The idea was to see how well English, humanities, social studies and science were being taught in the new era of the Common Core State Standards. The results are distressing and show that the instruction students are getting — particularly in writing — is deeply inadequate.

“Only four percent of all assignments reviewed pushed student thinking to higher levels,” one report said. “About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or doing author critiques. Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but these are largely surface level.”

“Relevance and choice — powerful levers to engage early adolescents — are mostly missing in action,” it said. “Only two percent of assignments meet both indicators of engagement.”

Here are even more depressing numbers: 18 percent of the assignments required no writing at all. Sixty percent demanded just some note-taking, short responses or a sentence or two. Fourteen percent required students to write a single paragraph — whoopee. Only 9 percent went beyond that.

The second article was written by D’Lee Pollock-Moore, an English teacher and department chair at Warren County High School in Warrenton, Georgia,  writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Get Schooled Blog she critiqued the Common Core ELA Standards. She said the reading standards neglect to teach the basics.

The Common Core fails to teach students the basics from kindergarten through 12th grade. Foundational reading skills end in fifth grade, yet middle and high school teachers still teach foundational skills like fluency and syllabication. This lack of foundational standards in the upper grades creates an achievement gap that can never be closed.

She also addressed how Common Core addresses writing:

Not only are we missing the basics in the lower grades, but we’re also missing the foundations in middle and high school.  Students need to be taught how to write an email, how to create a blog or website, and even how to write a professional letter and resume (and not every child takes a business class to learn these skills).  Does Common Core acknowledge these necessary and fundamental skills? No. You will not find any technical writing standards in the 6-12 Common Core Curriculum. This is why we still have to teach 12th graders how to write a thank you note or how to sign their name for a legal document (don’t even get me started on the cursive writing debate — there is no cursive writing standard in Common Core).  Students used to learn key job skills in English class, but now only college-readiness standards are important. What about the future welder who needs to learn how to read a welding manual?  Are his needs not as important as the future lawyer?

Is it any wonder Illinois students (and students across the nation) are struggling?

Illinois To “Transform” Assessment

Add Illinois to the list of states that have either ditched PARCC entirely or plan to use some hybrid of it.

The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Illinois State Board of Education plans to modify the PARCC assessment for 3rd-8th graders on the heels of a recent standoff with Chicago Public Schools over the assessment, as well as, complaints from numerous school districts.

The Illinois State Board of Education plans to transform third- to eighth-grade state exams, the Tribune has learned, with a goal of shortening the tests, getting results more quickly and switching to a format that adjusts the difficulty of test questions as kids provide right or wrong answers.

“PARCC as we know it — it is obviously going to need to evolve,” said A. Rae Clementz, ISBE’s director of assessment and accountability.

PARCC, the acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, had problems from the onset. School officials criticized the long hours of PARCC testing, and complaints from parents mushroomed into an opt-out movement that kept kids from getting tested. In 2015, Chicago Public Schools resisted PARCC testing and got into a standoff with the state, which threatened to yank hundreds of millions of dollars of funds from CPS. The district ultimately relented.

The state made changes to reduce time on testing and pulled PARCC from the roster of high school assessments following complaints from administrators who said the exams took away from instruction. Any PARCC changes will not affect high schools.

Meanwhile, scores on the third- to eighth-grade PARCC exams generally remained low statewide, with fewer than 40 percent of some 900,000 test-takers able to pass the reading and math exams in 2017.

PARCC’s membership has dwindled over the years to the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico. When New Jersey officially leaves PARCC only five states and the District of Columbia will remain in a consortium that once boasted 25 states and DC. Illinois has not made any announcement about leaving the consortium, and if they are still using PARCC in its entirety for the 11th grade they probably won’t.

Colorado recently left PARCC, but do still purchase some PARCC test items. Louisiana and Massachusettes offer a hybrid assessment. So when Illinois makes it change it will leave two states and D.C who use it in its entirety.

This Is One Reason Why Standardized Tests Aren’t Effective

Photo source: PureParents.org

If you really believe that standardized testing can help teachers better teach to their students’ weaknesses then they probably need results back sooner than a year.

From the Chicago Tribune/Naperville Sun:

Schools will have to wait until at least summer 2017 to get the results of the state science tests students took in 2016.

As high school biology students in Indian Prairie District 204 begin taking the Illinois Science Assessment this week, Superintendent Karen Sullivan said schools will push ahead despite the district having no idea how students performed when they took the assessment last spring.

“That makes it really useful to be able to know how to adapt to your instruction and your curriculum when you know what the results were,” said Sullivan at a recent board meeting.

Illinois State Board of Education officials said districts should see assessment results this summer.

This summer? Gee, thanks….

I realize that this is an extreme example, but every standardized assessment has lag time, and ultimately is not helpful in fine tuning individual instruction. Sure lessons could possibly be learned in the aggregate, but just because one class had a particular weakness it doesn’t mean the next class will be the same.

Anyway if this is a reason to push standardized testing those who advocate for it should be honest about its limitations. Parents would do well to opt their students out of these assessments that are ineffective and that waste time that is better spent teaching.

Chicagoland Mom Upset PARCC Wasn’t Dropped for Grades 3-8

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I shared earlier this week that the Illinois State Board of Education dropped PARCC for high school students in favor of SAT. A Chicagoland mom who goes by “MBA Mom” at Chicago Now complains that PARCC wasn’t dropped for 3rd – 8th graders as well.

I don’t blame her. She writes:

That’s great if your kid is in high school. One less test for them to stress over. Plus they can take the SAT for free.

It’s not great if you’re like me, with a child in grades 3 through 8. I have a rising third grader so this year will be my son’s first time taking PARCC unless I figure out a way to opt him out.

Speaking of which, I have learned this in my two years in Illinois: if you want a Facebook post to generate hundreds of comments in the space of a couple of hours, all you have to do is join your town’s moms page and ask, “How do I opt my child out of PARCC?”

This Tribune article sheds more light on the decision with quotes like this one, “At the high school level, the PARCC exams took away from key instruction time, school administrators said.”

Okay, so we’ve now acknowledged PARCC is a waste of time in high school. But by leaving the testing requirement for grades 3 though 8, does that imply it’s okay to take away ‘key instruction time’ from elementary and middle school students?

Well, it’s not okay. I think the curve is now steeper for elementary school students, especially those coming out of half-day Kindergarten, when it comes to learning and mastering Common Core language arts and math. So many kids are struggling. They need the classroom time.

Read the rest.

Illinois High School Students Will Take SAT Instead of PARCC

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This week the Illinois State Board of Education decided that high school students will not have to take the PARCC assessment, they will have to take the SAT instead.

The State Journal-Register reports:

Students in third through eighth grades will continue to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment.

The SAT (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test or Scholastic Achievement Test) will be provided to schools at no extra cost and will be offered to students during the school day, the state agency said.

“District and school administrators overwhelmingly agree with ISBE that every high school junior should have access to a college entrance exam, a policy that promotes equity and access and that provides each and every student with greater opportunities in higher education,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement. “The SAT is aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards and will continue to empower educators to measure college and career readiness.”

The state board said it made the change in response to listening to different stakeholders, including students, parents, educators, administrators and advocacy groups.

Those groups emphasized the need for equitable access to a college entrance exam and scaling back on the amount of testing time and number of assessments given, the board said.

Just two years ago, the PARCC exam replaced the Illinois State Achievement Test and Prairie State Achievement Exam, with claims that PARCC was a better way to prepare students for college and careers because it was aligned with federal Common Core standards.

Illinois reportedly spent $57 million to get the initiative off the ground.

But the test had many critics from the get-go who felt it was being rolled out too quickly, didn’t produce quality data and that the results weren’t accepted by colleges. Across Illinois, many high school students refused to take the test.

News that the state is dropping PARCC in high schools was met with praise, and also surprise, Monday from local school superintendents.

Read the rest.

The only good news is that this is one less assessment high school students will have to take. As for having to take the SAT, I was never a fan of the assessment before David Coleman took over the College Board, and he didn’t make any improvements. Now the state of Illinois is showing favoritism toward one college entrance exam.

*Yay*