Less than 40 percent of Illinois students met or exceeded expectations as measured by the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Illinois State Board of Education.
State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said Illinois was the first state in the PARCC consortium to share preliminary scores. “We wanted to share the data as soon as possible,” he said during a conference call on Tuesday.
The preliminary state-level results showed overall just over a third of students met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts/Literacy; between 33 and 43 percent of students partially met or failed to meet English expectations.
Illinois is part of a consortium of states participating in PARCC. Other states include Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Rhode Island.
A majority of students across the state did poorer on the math portion, especially at the high school level where only 17 percent of students met or exceeded expectations, 24 percent approached expectations and 59 percent did not meet expectations. The exception is the third graders: 36 percent met or exceeded expectations, 26 approached expectations and 38 percent partially met or did not meet expectations.
The preliminary scores include only students who took the test online and not students who were permitted to take the test in the paper-and-pencil form or students who completed the braille or Spanish versions of the test. Smith estimated the scores released include about 75 percent of students in grades third through eighth and high schoolers who took the exam in the spring.
PARCC was billed as the first entirely online student assessment. However, some districts were able to obtain a waiver from the state and administer the test in the traditional format.
In a letter to school administrators Smith sent last week, he warned results will show an overall poorer performance compared to the two tests PARCC replaces — the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for grade schoolers and the Prairie State Achievement Examination for 11th-graders.
“Please let everyone know that we fully expect results to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with the higher standards,” Smith wrote. “These initial results are simply a new baseline from which we can move forward. I do not want anyone to use these results to shame teachers or schools.”
Individual scores to be released later
The scores released Wednesday reflect only how Illinois students performed on the test as a whole. District and school-level data will be released in the late fall. Smith estimated it would be as late as November.
Prior to the PARCC test, the state issued the annual Illinois School Report Cards in October, which included information on how students in individual schools and districts performed on the previous state assessments.
Smith said he wants the PARCC scores as soon as possible and he’s “pushing hard” to make that happen. “We need to get the data back faster,” he said. “From where I’m sitting...we need more information sooner.”
The PARCC tests are being scored by representatives of the company which administered the test — Pearson.
Pearson spokeswoman Laura Howe said Pearson and the states in the consortium are “committed to executing a thorough scoring process that will ensure the integrity and validity of the PARCC results and provide valuable feedback for students, parents and educators.
“It is important to understand that the PARCC consortium agreed to the reporting schedule for all results. Pearson has met all timelines and deliverables regarding the scoring and reporting of PARCC results, as agreed to by the consortium,” she said. “Currently, states have received early, partial data from students who took the tests online. Pearson is on track to meet the agreed upon deadlines for delivering the entirety of the data.”
Smith, who has been the state superintendent for about four months, said he would like to get the data back faster.
“It needs to be of higher use value...the whole purpose is to get this data and information into the hands of parents and teachers to support their students,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job.”
Not having the scores until late fall is “pretty unacceptable,” Smith said. “We are a little bit in the dark. We don’t know when we are going to get all the data back from Pearson. We have a long way to go. I want it to be as fast as possible...We have to get good information in the hands of families as fast as possible.”
Local school officials reaction
Melissa Taylor, director of student services at Belleville District 201, said she was not surprised by the preliminary PARCC scores released Wednesday by ISBE.
“Every indication from PARCC and ISBE were the scores were going to decline,” Taylor said. “It’s a brand new test in a brand new format. Neither teachers or students were familiar with it.”
Once both become more acclimated to the new test, Taylor anticipates the scores will rise.
District 201 officials are “eager to see the data” for its students, she said.
“We understand why it’s taking so long to get the data, because there’s a lot that has to happen in the standards year,” Taylor said. “It’s awfully late to have this year’s data improve instruction... These scores will help us prepare for ‘16-17 (school year) much more than they will have an impact on ’15-16.”
Standardized test scores are “just a snapshot of what we do,” she said. “Test scores alone do not make us a good school. There’s a whole lot more that goes into it.”
Matt Stines, superintendent of Grant District 110, an elementary and middle school district in Fairview Heights, said the scores are what he “expected.”
“It’s the first year. It’s a baseline,” he said. “I think for us, and for schools in general, we want to look at growth of kids over time. If this is the baseline and it’s lower than we expected, so be it. I’m more concerned about year two or year three and making improvements.”
Next year, Stines said he hopes schools will get test results more quickly.
“My hope is they can do it better,” he said. “If an assessment is going to be valuable to drive instruction, you have to have the scores before instruction happens.”
Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118, described the newly released scores in one word — “wow.”
“They are reflective of what everybody probably expected a decline in the overall performance,” he said. “We knew the scores would drop. The format was completely new —online, and the test targeted new standards and was more difficult.”
District leaders are “anxious” to see how its students performed, Klosterman said.
“The sooner we can get the data the sooner we can start tearing into it and figuring out what it tells us,” he said.
The state board approved the five different levels which will be used to evaluate how students performed on the test during its meeting on Wednesday. They are as follows:
▪ Level 1: Did not yet meet academic expectations
▪ Level 2: Partially met academic expectations
▪ Level 3: Approached academic expectations
▪ Level 4: Met academic expectations
▪ Level 5: Exceeded academic expectations
At level 3, Smith said students will not be considered as meeting or exceeding standards, but will be “potentially ready” for community college.
“We are going to learn a lot from this assessment,” he said, including “where do we need to provide additional support for kids” and “where do we do a great job teaching the new content.
“We are going to have evidence to take action on as a result of getting this new information,” Smith added.
The scores that determine the performance levels were also approved by the PARCC Governing Board, which is comprised of the chiefs in each PARCC member state.
During its inaugural year, students in grades 3-8 and some high school students took the PARCC test in two parts — the Performance-Based Assessment and the End-of-Year exam — that used different types of questions to measure students’ knowledge and skills. The two exams will result in one score.
The first year of the PARCC administration has had it’s hiccups; however, Smith is hopeful for the future of the test. “I have every reason to believe PARCC is going to get better,” Smith said.
The PARCC exam will be administered in the spring 2016 but will be in a shorter and simpler format, according to school officials. The PARCC Governing Board, which is made up of education commissioners and superintendents from each PARCC state, voted in May to consolidate the two testing windows into one and reduce total test time for most students by 90 minutes.
“The changes are in a positive direction,” said Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118.
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 preliminary scores, Smith said, reflect “where we are now and where we need to go in the future. This entire test is framed around current content and readiness for what’s next,” he said.
Smith cautioned against comparing how students performed on the ISAT to how they did on PARCC. “The difficulty is it’s a different test,” he said. “We should use this new test, this assessment as a new starting point for our conversations about progress and what our kids need to be ready for the next level, what’s coming in the future.”