IL’s PARCC Test Transition

Equitable Funding, Quality Schools | 02/27/2015

Jessica Handy
Government Affairs Director

Jessica advocates at the state capitol for fair school funding and equitable education policies.

Why Getting It Right Matters Way More Than You Might Think

This week, the Illinois House held a subject-matter hearing about the new PARCC test. Two things are clear: change is hard. And we absolutely have to do it.

PARCC is the new standardized test that Illinois students will take next month for the first time, which replaces the old ISAT students used to take. We’ve known it was coming for a while now, but there’s no doubt that this transition is a big undertaking for our schools. The hearing revealed a lot of the potential that PARCC holds, and also a lot of the anxiety and concerns about implementation.

But here’s why a delay is not a viable option:

  1. We need to give the test to protecting our federal funding. We face serious federal sanctions if we don’t administer an annual assessment that is aligned to our learning standards. PARCC is the only test available for us to use in Illinois right now. Failure to comply jeopardizes our federal No Child Left Behind waiver and up to $1.3 billion in federal funds, most of which flow directly to support our neediest students. To put this in context, the total budget of the State Board of Education is about $10 billion. A 13% reduction would be devastating to our schools. (Maybe not all schools. Schools with a large property tax base who don’t have many low-income students don’t have as much to lose. But our most under-resourced kids? They’ll be the ones who get hurt.)
  2. It’s a better test, and it’ll get even better once it is fully implemented. PARCC is a better quality, interactive, 21st Century test that moves away from a fill-in-the-bubble format. It will give parents an honest picture of how their students are doing. It will give teachers feedback much more quickly that will help drive instruction. Let’s be honest: this year probably won’t be a picnic as our schools transition to this test that requires more technology of schools and critical thinking of our kids. But that’s why this year is so important. There are not high stakes consequences associated with this year’s results. This is an opportunity to learn and work out the glitches. The sooner we implement it, the sooner we can get baseline data and move toward the full promise PARCC holds. A delay just shortchanges another generation of kids.
  3. Annual PARCC assessments make ALL students visible. NCLB had plenty of flaws, but it enacted a tremendously important provision: it required schools to report data broken down by subgroups. This has enabled us to see the academic achievement gap and focus on closing it. If we pick and choose which kids take tests, we risk making individual children and subgroups invisible again. We will lose this objective evidence that, for example, shows a disparity between white and non-white students in the education they are receiving. That is why 27 civil rights and advocacy groups nationally took a position to support annual assessments for every child.

Any one of these reasons should be compelling enough on its own. Together, it makes it unfathomable that anyone would push a school district or the state to skip out on PARCC altogether. I’m not about to roll the dice and gamble $1.3 billion in funding for our most vulnerable students. No way. It’s 2015: it’s time for us to take the plunge, move out of the dark ages of filling in bubbles, and get it together for PARCC.

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