PARCCING the ISATs

Lauren Gugwor, Staff writer

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Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, the ISAT will be replaced with the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program. The new assessment will be “more focused on critical thinking” said Marielle Simhauser, CPS Spokeswomen. “Students will have to score higher to meet or exceed standards.”
Last year, 82 percent of grade school students were found to have met or exceeded state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test or ISAT, according to Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Unlike the ISAT tests, the PARCC standards are much higher. With increasing test scores on the ISAT it seems ridiculous to change the kind of test students take now. Educators, such as Superintendent Christopher Koch, urge that the passing bar is too low for reading and for math (which was improved upon late last month), and that students wouldn’t be properly prepared for the PARCC or exams later in high school. According to State officials, about 20 percent of ISAT questions will be more difficult in keeping with new Illinois standards adopted for what students should know.
How tough are these requirements exactly? According to the Tribune, while 76 to 88 percent of students passed ISATs across all grades, those figures would plunge to 56 to 62 percent under the new passing requirements.
Many parents are outraged; feeling that the increased emphasis put on standardized testing is the result of the 2002 No Child Left Behind act. If scores are too low the school faces sanctions and closedowns. Due to limited funding for poorer schools, many better-performing students won’t be relocated to better schools. The schools that don’t get closed down suffer from having to devote all class time to preparing for tests. It also puts a bigger strain on students and teachers who have to prepare to take dozens of tests a year.
Illinois will not be the first state to toughen their passing requirements. New York began using tougher requirements in 2010 and Michigan set higher passing scores in 2011. Florida also toughened the requirements to pass the writing exam but later lowered it last spring after too many students failed. Koch insisted that Illinois will not fall back to the old ISAT. “We’re not going to backtrack on this,” he said. “We have to move forward.” Just because other states want to try this new testing method doesn’t mean Illinois should also be part of this experiment. Illinois should just watch how it goes before the state tries to implement new ideas.

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