Education

Illinois wants to tweak the assessment test your student takes

What changes does the state PARCC exam need?

Jim Rosborg, a former Belleville District 118 superintendent, would like to see the state rethink the minimum scores that students need to be considered proficient in English and math. Some images provided by morguefile.com.
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Jim Rosborg, a former Belleville District 118 superintendent, would like to see the state rethink the minimum scores that students need to be considered proficient in English and math. Some images provided by morguefile.com.

Illinois’ education leaders plan to make changes to the state test given to students in third through eighth grades.

The Illinois State Board of Education wants to transition the PARCC exam to a computer adaptive format, which changes based on students’ ability level.

The state standards that the test measures would stay the same, but in the new format, questions would get more or less advanced based on students’ correct or wrong answers, according to ISBE spokesperson Jackie Matthews.

Tracy Gray, an assistant superintendent in Belleville District 118, said that change could help students who might have felt defeated by questions they couldn’t answer in the old format.

“If they have that feeling of frustration or lack of success, they’re sometimes just moving through the test,” she said. “This way, they feel some success.”

Superintendent Matt Klosterman said District 118 tries to teach kids skills like perseverance, which come in handy during a 90-minute state test session.

“We always worry about the length of those tests,” he said.

The longer a test is, the more it eats into students’ time in their classrooms and the more difficult it is for children to stay engaged, according to Klosterman. Matthews said shortening the testing time could be a byproduct of the state’s changes to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Along with a new format, Matthews said the state board wants to add test questions that are created by Illinois educators.

Past and present District 118 leaders, including Gray and retired superintendent Jim Rosborg, said they want to see the state make sure questions are tailored to each grade level.

Educators have expressed concerns that some of the vocabulary that has been used made the questions too difficult for students to understand, according to Gray.

Rosborg said he would also like to see the state rethink the minimum scores that students need to be considered proficient in PARCC’s English, reading and math sections, which he thinks are too high for them to reach. He works at McKendree University as the director of the master’s in education program.

Statewide, 29 percent of the students tested have met the state’s standards for what they should know each year.

About 5 percent of students are exceeding the standards, which leaves 66 percent who aren’t meeting expectations.

ISBE will soon be seeking bids from vendors who are interested in developing a computer adaptive format for PARCC.

When the new format rolls out will depend on the bids, according to Matthews. One difference that she said schools and families might notice in the meantime is that the results of the test are returned more quickly.

New Athens Elementary School principal Jim Marlow talks about how they are preparing students to excel on state testing.

Since students started taking the test in 2015, she said ISBE has received feedback from educators about getting PARCC scores earlier.

The 2017 scores, for example, were publicly released in October from tests students turned in during the previous school year.

Klosterman said the need for timely feedback was evident with the recent release of the Illinois Science Assessment results two years after students took the exam.

“What are we supposed to do with that?” he said. “Kids aren’t even in your school anymore.”

East St. Louis District 189 spokesperson Sydney Stigge-Kaufman said educators there want feedback sooner so they can make changes to the way they teach if it will help students.

“We also believe measuring growth — rather than attainment at only one touch point — is also a better indicator of teaching and learning,” she said in an email to the Belleville News-Democrat.

The PARCC tests students take this spring won’t see the changes in format. And high school students won’t be affected because they stopped taking PARCC in 2017. Now, high school juniors take the SAT.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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