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District U-46 discusses report card test scores
The following is the first in a series of stories addressing District U-46 test scores as reported by the Illinois State Board of Education
By Seth Hancock
Academic scores in School District U-46 continue to trend downward according to the latest report card released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and presented to the Board of Education on Monday, Oct. 29.
Two standardized tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam and the SAT, led much of the discussion by the board.
On PARCC, 26 percent of U-46 students met or exceeded expectations in both English and math proficiency which lag behind the state (37 percent English/32 percent math). The district saw drops in both its English proficiency dropping 10 points, 36 to 26 percent, since 2015.
Although the district saw declines in its numbers, how much stock should be taken in the PARCC exam?
Some board members who have clashed in the past had common ground in opposition to standardized testing, or at least opposition to PARCC. Board members Sue Kerr and Melissa Owens, regularly in the majority, shared similar sentiments with board member Jeanette Ward.
Kerr said there’s been criticism of the PARCC test being computer-based, although some schools still use paper tests, and said she understood those concerns after taking the practice test herself. She said she couldn’t answer some of fourth grade questions “because I didn’t know what they were asking.”
“Even in math you’re supposed to type out an explanation for some of the answers which could be a problem for a fourth grader or a third grader who doesn’t have keyboarding skills,” Kerr said.
Asked if PARCC practice exams are taken by students, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said: “My preference would be that we just invest in just quality instruction. Certainly you have to expose students to the format of the test.”
“That’s my point, not to teach the test but to at least have some idea going in,” Kerr responded. “I mean, it took me a minute to figure out how to get to the next page.”
Ward said she experienced the same thing when she took the practice exam.
“I had the same experience,” Ward said. “I thought it was ridiculous the type of questions they were asking of fourth and fifth grade. Completely age inappropriate, having to scroll up and down to the story to look down to the questions.”
Ward added: “I don’t know why we don’t allow all our students to take it on paper first of all, and second of all I don’t think we should require taking PARCC at all. It’s a ridiculous assessment that doesn’t tell us anything in my opinion. And again, I had the same experience taking that test. I don’t know who came up with that. It’s incredible.”
Owens said she did not put “a lot of weight” into the PARCC scores and said it’s “frustrating” that “one single test” represents a large portion of student evaluation.
“I really was hoping that we were getting away from… standardized testing, similar to what Mrs. Ward said,” Owens said. “We’re still looking at one test, and it’s really in my mind very disappointing that that’s the case. That’s not [U-46’s] doing, that’s the state.”
Kerr asked “aren’t they replacing PARCC next year,” and Sanders said it was being replaced with a “PARCC-like test.” Josh Carpenter, assistant superintendent, said it would be similar with the same content and scoring, but the name and interfacing of the exam would change.
On the SAT, which Illinois recently switched to as the state’s college admissions exam over the ACT, U-46 students saw a drop from 32 percent to 29 percent (37 percent for the state) meeting or exceeding standards in English and a drop from 29 percent to 28 percent (34 percent state) in math. The district’s average score was 486.2 (down from 493.2 and behind the state’s 505.7) in English and 482.8 (down from 486.2 and behind the state’s 501.4) in math.
Questioned on why there was a drop in the scores by Ward, Carpenter said declines were seen across the country.
“We’re not quite sure what that is related to at this point in time, but we have seen a decrease across the nation and also across the state as we have as well in U-46…. That doesn’t mean we’re not taking the time to really dig into the assessments,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said that the district will invite the College Board, which publishes the SAT, to U-46 and the administration needs to ask “deeper level questions.” He said there could be increased rigor in the exam and a shifting of programming questions, and he said all schools are trained.
Ward asked if there’s been a change in how the SAT is administered to which Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said there are more students taking the exam in the nation and it is still new to Illinois.
Johnson said the district has to look at other data to make its own assessment like attendance (U-46 at 93 percent and the state 94 percent according to the report card) and the percentage of freshmen deemed on track (the district at 80.8 percent and the state at 86.8 percent).
“To the positive, we have a whole new set of data pieces that we can really look through,” Johnson said.
“I think what you’re saying is that there’s just more students taking the test perhaps that aren’t prepared to take it,” Ward said. “That might explain the drop.”
Johnson responded: “I think again, it’s more students taking the test where again, as instructors and instructional leaders, have we worked to provide the level of instruction that students need to be successful. That’s on us as the adults to make sure that we’re preparing students for the instruction and then that evaluation.”