District 161 superintendent questions value of state-mandated PARCC test

In a letter Friday to the Flossmoor School District 161 community, Superintendent Craig Doster questioned the value of the state-mandated PARCC test for local students and schools.

Craig Doster

“From low class sizes to offering a host of extracurricular activities to ‘not teaching to the test,’ much of what happens in District 161 is driven by our community’s high expectations for its schools,” Doster said. “PARCC is an important example of how state mandates sometimes clash with our local needs and priorities.”

Doster’s communication shares many of the same ideas – and some of the language – as a letter that Dale Mitchell, superintendent of Homewood School District 153, sent to community members last month. For example, the preceding paragraph is nearly the same in both letters. The letters are not identical, though, and Mitchell’s communication includes more anecdotal language about the effect of PARCC on District 153 students and schools.

Both letters include contact information for Illinois legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner and encourage school district residents to share their concerns about PARCC with state leaders.

PARCC – it stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – is based on the national Common Core curriculum standards and will be administered for the first time this year, replacing the state’s Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT).  The first PARCC testing period is scheduled for Feb. 27 to March 25. Students will be re-evaluated in a second testing period from April 27 to May 22.

The new test is designed to be administered by computer and to measure higher-order skills, such as critical thinking, communicating effectively and problem solving. Students in grades three through 12 will be tested in English language arts/literacy and math.

“However the more we, at District 161, learn about PARCC, the more we are concerned,” Doster said. “In addition to the overly complex nature of the test itself, we are concerned about the amount of instructional time that will be lost to testing, the usefulness of the results, and most of all, the impact on students.”

Doster said District 161 is facing “significant scheduling challenges” just finding sufficient computer space and time for administering the test. Computer labs and media centers at each school will be used for testing and smaller laptop testing centers will be created in other rooms and classrooms of each building.

“Even utilizing every available device, students will experience two months of disruptions to their regular classroom schedules,” he wrote. “In our opinion, this is just too much time to spend on standardized testing and not enough on learning.”

PARCC requires every student to take three English language arts tests and two math tests, Doster said. Each test can take between 75 and 90 minutes. In all, students will spend about 14 hours taking online standardized tests this spring, as opposed to the seven hours required for ISAT.

Doster said there is a legitimate role for assessments and a recognized need for greater accountability in education. District 161 currently uses NWEA/MAP, an online assessment tool, as one of many ways to chart student progress.

“However, District 161 does not believe standardized tests are a particularly useful way to evaluate students and schools,” Doster wrote. “Further, we believe time consuming standardized tests, like PARCC, will actually detract from classroom learning.” 

Doster said District 161 will comply with the state mandate and administer PARCC.

During the last two years, he wrote, District 161 has joined other school systems in asking the Illinois State Board of Education to delay implementation of the new test. Those requests, he said, have always been denied, and accompanied by threats to withhold federal education funding if the PARCC mandate is not met.

Doster’s Friday communication to the District 161 community was accompanied by a Jan. 30 letter from ISBE Superintendent Christopher Koch and Chairman James Meeks, who said the state agency will withhold federal Title I from districts that do not administer PARCC this spring. Officials at the Chicago Public Schools system recently announced that PARCC would only be administered in 10 percent of their schools this year.

District 161 students have been taking part in practice sample assessments to help them become familiar with the PARCC testing environment, Doster said.

In addition, the district is hosting two Parent University sessions about PARCC, on Feb. 11 and 12, at the Normandy Villa administration center, 41 E. Elmwood Drive, Chicago Heights. The Feb. 11 session is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the Feb. 12 session is from 10 to 11 a.m.

According to the district’s website, the sessions are designed to provide information about PARCC, how it differs from previous state assessment tests and “what it will look like as our students work to complete it.” 

Related stories:
Homewood Schools among the first in Illinois to move from paper testing to computer (The Chronicle, Dec. 31, 2014)
PARCC testing now required in Illinois (The Chronicle, Jan. 4, 2015)

More information:
Superintendent Craig Doster's PARCC letter
The PARCC Assessment
Illinois State Board of Education PARCC page
Stop Common Core in Illinois

Contact Tom Houlihan at [email protected]

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