District 161 board rejects computer purchase for PARCC testing

Board of Education members in Flossmoor School District 161 Monday rejected an emergency administration request for new computers to be used during the state-mandated PARCC standardized test, which students will begin taking later this month.

In a 5-2 vote, board members turned down the administration’s request to immediately spend $30,000 for 150 new Chromebook laptop computers that could used in administering PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. State education officials notified District 161 in December that PARCC is to be given with computers, rather than with papers and pencils, said Fran LaBella, associate superintendent for business.

LaBella said she is concerned that the district’s current computer network is not adequate to accommodate the demands of PARCC. With the purchase of the Chromebook computers, she said, the district planned to transfer those new laptops into a central computer lab at one school.

“We would be able to make sure that it is running exactly the way we want,” LaBella said. Existing desktop computers replaced by Chromebooks would be used as backup units throughout the district during PARCC testing, she said.

Sample testing in preparation for PARCC is showing shortcomings in the existing computer system, LaBella said.

“PARCC is a whole different beast,” she said. “I’m really kind of worried about it.”

District 161 previously budgeted the purchase of the 150 Chromebooks in the next fiscal year. LaBella said approving Monday’s request  would merely move up the purchase into the current fiscal year.

However, board members balked at spending so much money that is not included in the current school district budget.

Board member Leah Bailey Langston said she had a hard time believing that District 161 only learned in December that PARCC would have to be administered by computer, and not paper and pencils. Amy Warnke, assistant superintendent of learning and instruction, said that was indeed the case.

“I believe that we are spending a lot of money because of poor planning,” Langston said. “I feel like I’m being stuck up. Either we do this or the whole thing is going to blow up.”

Board member Timijanel Boyd Odom said most area school districts are experiencing similar concerns about the upcoming PARCC tests, and whether their current computer systems will be sufficient. Odom said she attended a regional meeting of south suburban school officials last weekend. Sixty-six school districts were represented at the meeting, she said, and “all are in an uproar.”

Board member Stephen Paredes said it is common knowledge that the PARCC test is technically flawed. He said District 161 students should take the test with the current computer technology “and we’ll see what happens.”

Paredes said he has already heard from parents who say they are planning to keep their children home on the PARCC testing day. He said the district needs to strongly encourage parents that their children should take the test.

Langston, Odom, Paredes, Lisa Harrell and Gregg Lunceford voted against buying the Chromebooks at this time. John Simmons and Christine Marks voted in favor of the administration request. 

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