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PARCC Test Fails More Than 60 Percent of Kids - Why Keep Giving It?

From Raise Your Hand Illinois

Published in ChicagoNow, August 30, 2016

When I was teaching high school English back in the day, if 60 percent of my students failed a test, there was only one logical conclusion. I had given a bad test. The questions were too tricky or not relevant to the material I had taught. And I would have apologized for wasting my students’ time and designed a better and more reasonable exam.

I vowed not to write another word about the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. But there it was, another article by Diane Rado on page seven of the Chicago Tribune. In it, she quoted State Superintendent Tony Smith as describing the fact that only 40 percent of Illinois students passed as “sobering.” But he comes to the opposite conclusion as me. He feels that somehow everything but the test is to blame. The schools have to work harder. The teachers have to do more to prepare the kids to do well on this test. And the students – well, I guess it’s their fault that they are not “college and career ready.”

Our state has already admitted PARCC is not a good test for high school students. They will not have to take it this year, leaving time to take tests that count for college admission and time to actually prepare for college or careers. But our children in grades three through eight still have to sit for this test. We are told once again that there will be dire consequences for opting out of PARCC. There may be a loss of federal funding, although this has yet to happen in any state. Our contract with Pearson, the for-profit company that manufactures PARCC and all of the goodies that accompany it, runs out in June of 2018. The implication is that we are stuck with it until then.

So, here’s my question: How have so many other states been able to stop giving PARCC? The original 2010 consortium of 26 states is down to seven. Not much of a national test anymore. And how were the 19 states that left able to break their contracts with Pearson?

Not convinced yet that Illinois should drop out of the dwindling PARCC consortium? In a letter presented to the state by the North Shore school districts, they make a very valid point: “In reality, PARCC takes significantly more time away from core instruction than any other assessment in the state’s history.”

At this point, you might ask, “Show me the money.” The State of Illinois has paid Pearson, the company that provides the PARCC exam and materials, about $37 million so far. The contract originally called for four school years of testing, beginning in 2014 and ending in 2018, for administering PARCC to students in grades three through high school at a cost of over $160 million. I’m not sure how dropping the high school test affects the contract. But as of June 30, Illinois schools are operating on a temporary (six months) measure to open schools this fall. And Chicago Public Schools have once again seen substantial cuts. So how do we justify spending this kind of money on a flawed and meaningless test that most of our students are destined to fail?

One more issue. Because PARCC is supposed to be taken online, it was estimated that schools would need to make close to $150 million in technology improvements. Thus far, about one-third of those improvements have been made. Yes, this is probably a worthwhile expense, but not when there is not enough money for teachers, classroom aides, fixing crumbling buildings, and keeping class sizes to a teachable number of students.

Supposedly, Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It’s more than time for Illinois to park the PARCC for all of its students.


by Laurie Levy
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