Problems minimal in Homewood District 153’s initial days of PARCC testing

There’s a general sigh of relief in Homewood District 153 as only minor glitches have come up during the first five days of PARCC testing.

Pre-test training sessions helped familiarize students with the test concepts and necessary computer skills, the district’s bandwidth proved sufficient for the multi-computer use and a few minor issues have been solved and chalked up to experience.

“It’s been a huge amount of work by our tech staff. I know our teachers were feeling the stress and pressure.  That whole anxiety was huge, but in the end it’s just minor glitches that we’ve been able to work around,” explained Kathy Schaeflein, director of Curriculum and Instruction. 

PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is the new state-mandated test of Common Core standards administered to third through eighth graders. Illinois replaced the paper-and-pencil Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) with the computer-administered PARCC. 

PARCC has been controversial across the state because not all schools have the technology necessary to administer the test, and students are required to take five tests — three in English and two in math — over a number of weeks.  

James Cassidy, a teacher at Millennium School who has been working on PARCC preparation for several months, said the testing is twofold: knowledge of the material and technology skills.

Parents have been voicing their concerns about the testing cutting into teaching time. Two District 153 parents initially asked that their children not be tested, but Schaeflein said by law the district has to provide the test to every child. Students then can refuse to sign on to the computer.

The three schools have set up computer testing stations in their media and tech centers and in a few classrooms as needed. Unlike ISAT with all students tested together on two days, student schedules in district 153 are being rotated according to how many testing stations are available. Testing will continue until March 27.

Schedule adjustments by assistant principals at Churchill, Millennium and James Hart Schools allow for students to still get their full classes in art, music, science and physical education and limited disruptions for other classes.

“We’ve really thought outside of the box, I think, in trying to facilitate this. It has been monumental, but we’re keeping the kids in mind and the learning environment in mind, to get to what will be the least disruptive to those students and allow the teachers to keep teaching,” she noted.

Schaeflein has been coordinating with Beth White, director of Technology for District 153. She, in turn, has worked with Cathryne Czarnecki at Hart, James Cassidy at Millennium and Eileen Darin at Churchill. Schaeflein calls those “the front line” staff. Technology specialists Bob Dippold, Terenee Johnson and Tim Noe have been responsible for the computer equipment.

Before testing began, each student had test preparation time “so they knew — this is the drop down menu, how do you highlight things, this is how you flag to go back later,” Schaeflein explained. Without that practice, students could have become flustered at test time, and it could have slowed them down. On a second pre-test day, students did some of the sample questions on a practice test.

Everything District 153 is learning from this initial PARCC testing period will be extremely helpful when it administers the PARCC again in May as end-of–the-year testing.  Schaeflein said May testing will be similar but in some cases shorter, and it will have different types of questions. The May testing is not meant to be a comparison to the March testing scores.

“The computer format will be the same and we will probably use the same model now that we’ve worked out some of the kinks,” Schaeflein added.

Related stories:
Hunkering down as PARCCageddon looms (The Chronicle, Feb. 18, 2015)
Sample PARCC tests give District 153 board members pause (The Chronicle, Feb. 10, 2015)
District 161 superintendent questions value of state-mandated PARCC test (The Chronicle, Feb. 8, 2015)
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)

Contact Marilyn Thomas at [email protected]


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