‘New’ state testing still based on PARCC — but changes underway, state says

Grade-schoolers across Illinois will begin taking a “new” state standardized test debuting next month — but it’ll still feel a lot like the PARCC exams that have been maligned by families, teachers and administrators alike for four years.

That’s because the rebranded Illinois Assessment of Readiness for third-through-eighth-graders will still contain most of the same reading and math content from PARCC during the first phase of a four-year test overhaul.

The Illinois State Board of Education announced the adjusted format last week, just a month before the testing window “tentatively” opens March 11.

The board last fall had approved a contract with a firm to develop a new hybrid test, but ended up awarding a one-year deal last month to the current contractor to administer a similar test this spring on the way to a fully revamped test by 2022.

“The bottom line for this year is that the only difference students will experience in our testing program will be a shorter test with a new name,” acting ISBE Chief Education Officer Ralph Grimm said.

Since 2015, when the state began administering PARCC — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — critics have slammed the hours-long test for, among other things, eating up valuable class time.

This spring’s iteration of the test, which is aligned to Common Core standards, will be about two-thirds as long, officials say. Most students will take an online test; under 10 percent of schools across the state using paper exams.

Volunteers with More Than a Score passed out these flyers on the PARCC test in 2015. | Sun-Times file photo

Opponents rejoiced last year when the state announced it would alter the exam, but this year’s repackaging drew the ire of the Chicago education advocacy group Raise Your Hand, which labeled it the “Zombie PARCC.”

“To have the Illinois test ready for spring, ISBE has basically adopted PARCC for one more year,” the group said in a statement.

Raise Your Hand and other groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have urged students to opt out of taking the test — which is legal, but no easy feat for students expected to stand up to administrators under pressure to submit results that ensure federal funding.

The critics say PARCC has faulty questions and is unreasonably difficult — under 40 percent of students across the state met or exceeded expectations last year — and that scoring takes too long. Results in the state have arrived by late autumn of the following school year, rendering them largely useless for parents or teachers.

RELATED: PARCC test a double whammy for CPS special education students

About two dozen states administered PARCC at its height in 2010, but that’s now dwindled to just a handful with Illinois’ gradual departure.

State officials say the revamped Illinois Assessment of Readiness will address all those concerns by 2022, starting with a fully online exam next year with results returned in weeks rather than months.

It’ll be “computer adaptive” by 2021, adjusting questions mid-test to identify student-specific needs, and will incorporate questions from Illinois educators. By 2022, the board says it will have developed its own “true native” test.

This year’s testing window closes April 26.

CTU teacher Carol Hays hands out flyers to students that explain how to refuse to take the PARCC test outside Walsh Elementary School on Wednesday, March 16th, 2017. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

CTU teacher Carol Hays is shown in March 2017 outside Walsh Elementary School, handing out flyers to students; the flyers explained how to refuse to take the PARCC test. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

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