News

For Immediate Release
March 24, 2014

Illinois students participate in pilot tests to prepare for new assessments tied to states’ more challenging learning standards


Students in nearly half of Illinois schools will participate this spring in a limited amount of field testing to prepare for next year’s new, more rigorous assessment system

SPRINGFIELD – Students in Illinois schools will take a practice test this spring that will help them become familiar with next year’s line of new assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics and provide state policy makers and educators with valuable feedback before the tests are finalized. These new state tests, developed through a group of states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), are aligned to Illinois’ new learning standards and aim to deliver clear and timely information about what students know and can do and whether they can demonstrate the academic preparation necessary to succeed as citizens and in college and careers.

“We’re grateful for the many schools and districts across Illinois that have agreed to help us as we essentially ‘test’ the new test,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “We’re excited that we now have a test that was developed to measure how well students are meeting these new, more demanding expectations. We know that feedback from Illinois schools will make this a more accurate and meaningful assessment system that will give families and educators information they can put to use.”

Illinois is among 14 states and the District of Columbia that plan to administer the PARCC to all third- through 11th-graders in 2014-15. Across the country, more than 1 million students in 14 of the PARCC states – roughly 10 percent of students in grades 3 through 11 across this group – will take the practice or “field” test this spring.

Beginning today, March 24, about 125,000 Illinois public school students – or 12 percent of all eligible students – in nearly 1,800 schools and 650 school districts will take a PARCC field test in English language arts or mathematics. The Illinois State Board of Education has worked since last fall to find participating schools and ensure that the test takers are a representative sample of Illinois students.

The PARCC will replace the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) given to third- through eighth-graders and it is also planned to replace the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) given to 11th graders. The PARCC differs from these current state tests in a number of important ways, beginning with how and when students will be tested in 2014-15.

Students taking the online tests offered through PARCC will use computer-based tools, such as drag-and-drop, multiple select, text highlighting and an equation builder. Tests will be given throughout the year to gauge progress and provide teachers with timely information aimed to inform classroom instruction.

The PARCC assessments represent a range of more rigorous and engaging test items — from a new take on traditional multiple choice style questions aided by technology to longer tasks that ask students to demonstrate their understanding. In reading and writing, students will have to show they can read and understand complex passages, write persuasively and present findings based on research. In math, they also will have to show their work and demonstrate they understand a concept. Rather than simply memorize a formula, they will have to apply math knowledge to real-world problems. Overall, the tests will require higher-level thinking and analysis from students.

“The PARCC assessment promises a clearer profile of our incoming students, providing the type of information that will enhance our capacity to help them fulfill their potential and achieve their goals,” said University of Illinois President Robert Easter. “The testing standards reflect the higher-order thinking skills that students must demonstrate to succeed throughout college and in their careers.”

The practice run of the PARCC and administration of the ISAT, our current grade 3-8 assessment, will vary within schools and from school to school this spring. The PARCC test consists of two components – the Performance Based Assessment (PBA) and the End of Year Assessment (EOY). To minimize the testing burden on schools, the majority of students participating in the practice PARCC testing will take only one PARCC component in one content area, either ELA or math. That means the majority of field testing schools still administered the ISAT in both English and Math earlier this month, and their scores will go toward their school’s Adequate Yearly Progress designation under No Child Left Behind.

A “full” PARCC practice test is defined as participation in both the PBA and the EOY in one of the two content areas. About 300 field testing districts in Illinois that are administering the full practice test this spring were allowed to forgo administering the same content area (either ELA or math) of the ISATs as Illinois has been granted a one-year “double-testing waiver” from the U.S. Department of Education. That means those schools will not be held accountable for scores in that subject area under NCLB. Schools are still responsible for student participation in all other ISAT content areas assessed at a grade level.

The U.S. Department of Education has given that same double-testing flexibility for students taking the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM), an assessment for children with severe cognitive disabilities.

The practice tests will give students the chance to try out a new test before it counts and help education leaders determine the fairness, validity and accuracy of the test questions and format. A few classes from each of the schools participating in the practice run will take the test. Students and schools will not be scored on the field tests, which are designed to make sure test items and the technology function correctly.

Regardless of PARCC field testing, all Illinois third- through eighth-graders took the ISAT in at least one subject, ELA or math earlier this month. All fourth- and seventh-graders took the science portion of the ISAT during this testing administration. Illinois recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, and districts will be implementing those standards in the next several years. Additionally, in April, all 11th-graders will take the PSAE, which includes the ACT college-entrance exam, as they have in the past.

“We believe the field testing will help both our students and our faculty become more prepared for this new generation of assessments,” said Superintendent Tim Farquer of Williamsfield CUSD 210, which is located about 30 miles northwest of Peoria. “We understand there may be some glitches and a little additional work this spring, but the pay-off is that our students and faculty will get a chance to practice taking this more rigorous online test without worrying about scores and teachers will have a better understanding of what to expect from state testing next school year. It’s a win-win.”

Hundreds of educators from all of the participating PARCC states have been instrumental in developing and reviewing the test items. The PARCC has posted sample test items for every grade on the testing platform students will use when taking the field test later this spring. These items can be found at www.parcconline.org/computer-based-samples.

The ultimate goal is that all Illinois schools will eventually administer the PARCC online. ISBE recognizes, however, that not all schools currently have this capacity. Therefore, some schools will field test the PARCC through paper-based assessments. The State Board’s FY15 budget recommendation includes a $450 million capital request to support districts as they improve their technology infrastructure.

In 2010, the Illinois State Board of Education adopted the more demanding Illinois Learning Standards and since then, the Board has provided resources and training to help districts implement the standards into curriculum. The agency has recently developed a model math curriculum. Officials from higher education, employers and educations have supported these new internationally-benchmarked standards as a way to better prepare students for college and the workplace.

“As careers have evolved, so must our education and our means of testing students,” said State Superintendent  Koch. “This assessment system will give everyone a better understanding – earlier in each student’s academic life – of their abilities and readiness to succeed.”

A new video from ISBE takes a look at the PARCC assessments and new Illinois Learning Standards. “Improving Student Assessments” explains the keys to PARCC success, which include employing innovation and measuring students’ higher level thinking abilities. The video features interviews with ISBE Director of Assessment Mary O’Brian, Illinois PARCC Coordinator Dan Long, and Mathematics and English Language Learning Content Specialists. It is available online at http://www.isbe.net/asx/2014/PARCC_Imp_Student_Assess_022814.asx.

In order to view the video, viewers will need to have Windows Media Player. Mac users may need to download Windows Media Components for QuickTime to view the video. Go to http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-media-components-quicktime.

For more on PARCC, please visit: http://www.parcconline.org.

Illinois districts and schools participating in the Spring 2014 PARCC Field Test (as of 3-17-14). http://www.isbe.net/assessment/pdfs/parcc/field-test/parcc-ft-partic0314.pdf

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