Post by: Chicago Tribune
State test scores took a nosedive as students struggled to pass the first PARCC exams last school year, with some of Illinois’ most elite schools seeing a sharp drop in performance compared with the old days of easier exams.
Powerhouse schools New Trier, Adlai E. Stevenson and Hinsdale Central posted unheard of low scores — less than half of test takers at those schools passed the PARCC math exams, according to 2015 results released by the state this week.
And several hundred schools saw fewer than 10 percent of their students pass, including some schools where not one of the test takers passed the math and English Language Arts exams.
Still, the picture is muddied because tens of thousands of students skipped the 2015 exams, as a testing rebellion surged across Illinois last school year. With so many kids not taking the exams in some schools, educators say it’s unclear what PARCC scores mean and how well they reflect on how a school is performing.
“Certainly you can make the conclusion that it (low participation on the exams) is going to skew results in some way,” said Jeffrey Smith, the director of research and evaluation in Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214. There, a large number of students skipped the PARCC exams, including more than 90 percent of students at Rolling Meadows High School.
In other schools, the testing became meaningless, which could make students less motivated to do well, bringing down scores.”
The kids said, ‘Why are we doing this?'” said Argo Community High School Superintendent Kevin O’Mara, who is president of the Illinois High School District Organization. “This wouldn’t go on their transcript. College wouldn’t see it, and it meant nothing to them.”
At South Cook County’s Argo High, about 25 percent of kids passed the English exam, and only about 16 percent passed the math exam.
At Chicago’s Northside College Prep, a perennial top performer, between 80 and 90 percent of students skipped exams, leaving only five students to take the math exam and 38 to take the English exam. Of those 38 students, 92 percent passed.
Passing rates of 90 percent — and even 80 percent — were far less common on PARCC compared with prior years, when students took the ISAT and Prairie State exams. Those exams have been replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a Common Core-based test that last school year involved two different testing cycles. The exams focus on critical thinking and problem-solving and are designed to be taken online, though paper and pencil tests were still an option last school year.
Only 17 schools out of more than 3,500 across the state posted passing rates of 80 percent or higher in math, across all grades, and 42 schools posted rates that high in English. In 2014, several hundred schools had passing percentage rates in the 80s and 90s on the old exams, according to state data.
Deerfield’s Walden Elementary School in Lake County was one of those schools that earned passing rates in the 80s in 2015. The year before, the school had passing rates in the 90s on the old ISAT tests, but Principal Scott Schwartz said, “We knew PARCC was going to be different; we knew it had higher expectations.”
Teachers were committed to integrating the new Common Core standards for what students need to know into the school’s curriculum, Schwartz said. “The kids were able to explore and dig really deep into different areas of interest.”
On top of that, Schwartz praised the school’s teachers and said the school tried not to create any more hype about PARCC. “It was business as usual,” he noted. “We said, ‘OK, we’re going to take the PARCC test.’ We didn’t make a huge deal out of it.”
Elsewhere, many high schools struggled to get their students to pass the new exams. High schools were a little different in that the exams were given based on the courses kids were taking and not necessarily the grades they were in. For example, high schools could test kids in Algebra 1, which would mean ninth-graders and perhaps a few 10th-graders would be tested, along with freshman English. Schools also could test in higher level courses in math and English.
The results turned out to be dismal, or at least lower than usual, for many schools.
At New Trier’s ninth-grade campus in Northfield, 77.1 percent of students passed the PARCC in English, but only 41.4 percent passed the Algebra 1 exam.New Trier spokeswoman Nicole Dizon said in an email to the Tribune that the ninth-graders tested in Algebra 1 were generally those who were not in advanced math in junior high. Higher-level math students entering high school usually take geometry or even higher-level math and therefore did not take the PARCC test, she said. Even so, Dizon noted that the 41.4 passing rate was much higher than the 18.7 state average for high school math on PARCC.
Likewise, Adlai E. Stevenson High School spokesman Jim Conrey said it wasn’t surprising that students taking the Algebra exam at the Lincolnshire school posted a passing rate of 45.1 percent. “I think it is fair to say these students tend to be at the more basic level in terms of math knowledge,” he said. The English results were a lot higher — 74.3 percent.
“You want to judge the success of your school on how the most vulnerable students are learning,” said Pamela Bylsma, assistant superintendent for academics at Hinsdale Township High School District 86. She said the district chose to test the ninth-graders who were not advanced in math, and the school was prepared for lower-than-usual passing rates. Hinsdale Central’s passing rate was 42.7 percent in math, and Hinsdale South’s was 27. The English results were higher.
On the PARCC exams, students are measured based on how they have fared in learning material in their grade. Students get scores on the exams that place them in performance levels. Students who get a 4 or 5 on the exams, called “met expectations” or “exceeded expectations,” are considered proficient and prepared for the next grade level as well as on track for college and careers.
A 1 and 2 are the lowest levels, and students are not considered proficient. But parents and students will have to get used the new 3 level, which doesn’t exactly mean a student is proficient, but also doesn’t mean a student has failed. In the past, the state has used only four categories of performance.
There’s a wide range of scores in the 3 category, and state officials have said a child getting a score in the high range of Level 3 would likely have adequate knowledge and, depending on grades and other factors, could still do well in classes.
Across grades for elementary and junior high students, eighth-graders did best in English, with an average passing rate of 40.4 percent, while third-graders did best in math, with an average passing rate of 34.5 percent.
At the lowest end, third-graders did worst in English at 35.3 percent, while fifth-graders did worst in math, with a passing rate of 26.9 percent.
At the high school level, the passing rate statewide was 34.7 in English, and 18.7 in math.