First PARCC Test Administration Off to a Smooth Start

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Students will take the second portion of the two-part PARCC assessment starting in late April and early May

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Schools across the state report a strong start for the first administration of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment and praise the new exam’s utility, technological features and ability to engage students.

Since testing began last month, more than 1.4 million PARCC Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) test sessions have been completed by Illinois students with no major technical difficulties reported. Schools are currently wrapping up the first portion of the two-part PARCC assessment, which is aligned to the new Illinois Learning Standards in English language arts and math and given to most third- through eighth-graders and some high school students.

“This is a historic moment for Illinois as more than 75 percent of our students are expected to take the PARCC assessment online which provides for a more engaging experience and will reduce assessment costs going forward,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “I am proud of the hard work and preparation our schools have put in to ensure a smooth test administration and we’re confident that the end of year exam will go as well or better.”

School and district staff members say they are encouraged with how the PBA process has gone for both teachers and students.

“The implementation has been extremely successful,” said Melanie Gravel, principal of James C. Bush Elementary School in Johnsburg School District 12. “Our approach was to maintain a positive, professional and proactive attitude that embraces the changes with the assessment and to become as informed as possible so that we could prepare our students and staff.”

The McHenry County elementary was one of about 1,200 schools that participated in PARCC field testing in March 2014. The school has also provided its staff ongoing professional development to prepare for the PARCC exam. Students, in turn, have felt at ease during testing, Gravel said.

“I liked that the test was on a computer rather than on paper,” said Bush Elementary third-grade student Alina Bardell, who enjoys using electronic devices for spelling, writing and virtual field trips. “I thought it was easier being able to take the test on the computer.”

The PARCC assessment, the state’s only required test, improves upon the state’s previous assessment system. This summative assessment requires students to demonstrate critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills, reflecting the new learning standards and their emphasis on applying knowledge. Schools are wrapping up the administration of the first part, or Performance-Based-Assessment (PBA), which is given when about 75 percent of instruction is completed and consists of more extended tasks and writing exercises. The second part is the End-of-Year (EOY) assessment, which is given when approximately 90 percent of instruction is complete and consists of multiple choice questions. The EOY will be administered starting in late April and early May.

The PBA and EOY are two parts of the same test which are added together to result in one score. This summative assessment is not meant to measure progress from one portion to the next, but rather demonstrate whether or not students have learned the content provided and whether they are deemed proficient on the measured standards. The approximate total 8 to 10 hours of PARCC testing are spaced out over several sessions and the two parts to allow more time for scoring the extended tasks and writing portion of the PBA. Schools are encouraged to give students no more than two sessions of PARCC testing per day. In total, the PARCC’s testing time represents less than one percent of students’ instructional time this school year.

Jane Addams Elementary School in Springfield School District 186 also participated in last year’s PARCC field test.

“Having had the opportunity to pilot the PBA last spring, we noticed improvements to the system, which made test administration easier and resolved tech problems,” Principal Jennifer Hanson said. “Teachers reported students remained engaged during testing and had a good understanding of how to use the online tools.”

In Frankfort School District 157-C, the testing process has been “flawless” as students enjoy the PARCC exam’s technology-enhanced items, said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Janet McClarence.

“They are excited to get a video clip and to have some interactive tools to use. It isn’t just another paper-and-pencil test activity. It is an exciting, engaging format for them,” McClarence said. “We really had far less students who were distracted or gave up, like we’ve seen in the past.”

Frankfort’s teachers echoed this enthusiasm, Director of Technology Jacob Nelson said.

“Everyone was pleased with how smoothly the test went and the overwhelming majority would say they hope they never see another pencil-and-paper test again,” he said. “The old days of sorting out the test and paper packets and inventorying them and collecting them back and counting everything are now over.”

Nelson and McClarence credited the user manuals, webinars and other support documents and resources provided by the Illinois State Board of Education with giving their district the knowledge and tools they needed to train staff and prepare for a successful administration.

Training, staff collaboration and technology planning were also priorities for the staff at Crone Middle School in Indian Prairie School District 204, where Principal Allan Davenport said testing has gone well for the 1,200-plus students taking the exam online. Every staff member was trained to administer the PARCC assessment, and the school assembled a “PARCC team” composed of Assistant Principal and Testing Coordinator Erica Vuilleumier and 10 other teachers.

“The teachers and I initially had more anxiety about it but once the first day of testing was done for all teachers, they would say, ‘That was really smooth,’” Vuilleumier said. “Everyone feels much more confident in the whole process. Going into the EOY, we know what to expect.”

The PARCC assessment will report the extent to which students have learned the grade-level material in English language arts/literacy and mathematics that will prepare them for the next grade level and eventually for college and career.

Later this year, families will have access to reports on the initial PARCC assessment results with more detailed information about student performance on each portion of the assessment. This year’s results are expected to take additional time to produce because this first year of student scores will be used to set cut scores that determine the performance levels at which students can be deemed “college and career ready.” In subsequent years, those results will be available in a timelier manner to direct intervention and support as needed.

More than 13 million students in 29 states across the country are expected to take the PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessment system, the only two tests that were designed to measure achievement under the new learning standards.

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