The statewide student assessment test known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will return next year with a shorter and simpler format, to improve the testing process for both students and educators, according to school officials.
The exam was originally divided into two parts that measure different types of knowledge and skills. The PARCC Governing Board, which is made up of education commissioners and superintendents from each PARCC state, voted this week to consolidate the two testing windows into one and reduce total test time for most students by 90 minutes, beginning next school year. The vote came in response to school district feedback during the first year of testing and a review of the test design.
“These changes to the structure will not take away from the PARCC test’s vital purpose to ensure that each student in every school is learning the skills and knowledge needed in order to advance to the next grade level and ultimately, college and/or careers,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith in a released statement. “We made the changes in response to the insights and comments we’ve heard from teachers, students, and parents. We are committed to listening to feedback, now and in the future, and will continue working on the content and process based upon that feedback.”
The PARCC exam will now consist of six or seven test units, depending on grade level, compared to the eight or nine sessions that students took this year. The PARCC Governing Board’s decision also reduces the math testing time by 60 minutes and removes a half-hour from the English language-arts portion for most students.
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Matt Stines, superintendent of Grant School District 110 in Fairview Heights, said he was pleased to hear the testing window and the test itself will be shortened.
“We spent a lot administering that test” this year, Stines said. “I’m happy they are going to make some changes in that regard.”
Officials at other metro-east school districts are also happy.
“It seems like a positive thing to me,” said Melissa Taylor, director of student services at Belleville District 201.
This year, she said the district was concerned about the impact PARCC had on student instructional time.
“By shortening the window, we view that as a positive,” Taylor said. “It’s a chance to recoup some of that instructional time we had to devote to PARCC this year. The amount of time students had to engage in PARCC testing was really lengthy.”
Martha Weld, assistant superintendent of O’Fallon District 203, said school officials are “delighted” with the consolidation of the two testing windows into one.
“Educators recognize and cherish instructional minutes with our students. The separate testing windows as originally required reduced our instructional minutes and interrupted instructional flow on two separate occasions,” she said. “This change in practice is student-learning focused and better balances the instructional and assessment components of education. This modification is a very positive measure for all parties involved. We are grateful the feedback from parents, students and educators was favorably acted upon.”
Lou Obernuefemann, superintendent of Belle Valley District 119 in Belleville, said he wasn’t surprised to learn about the changes.
“Analysis of new systems always leads to adaptation upon initiation,” he said. “These proposed changes will result in a reduction of assessment time for students and simplify scheduling, while upholding test integrity.”
The PARCC exam will continue to align to the new Illinois Learning Standards and maintain its focus on critical thinking, concept mastery and writing skills.
The single testing window will simplify the test administration for schools that expressed concerns about the challenge of scheduling two testing windows. Although the assessment will be given in one testing window in future years, the test will still contain the same extended tasks and writing exercises that are important for measuring students’ critical thinking and concept mastery. The testing window will be up to 30 days and will extend from roughly the 75-percent mark of the school year to the 90-percent mark.
This year’s PARCC testing was done in two parts — the performance-based testing conducted in early spring and the end-of-year testing conducted in late spring, closer to end of the school year. Five million students in 11 states and the District of Columbia completed the PARCC assessments this year.
Results from the first PARCC exam administration will be available in late fall. The 2015 results will take additional time to produce because classroom teachers and higher education content experts from each state, including Illinois, must review the first year of student scores and determine performance levels based on appropriate score ranges.
Stines said he and other district officials are concerned they won’t have the results back in time to make any necessary instructional changes before the next test is administered.
“If we give a test in March, it would nice to have those results back before we take the next test,” he said.