DeKalb County students will be guinea pigs for a standardized test this spring that is changing the way schools measure their performance.
School districts across DeKalb County are preparing for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers test which will replace the Illinois Standard Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam next year.
Sandwich School District 430, Hinckley-Big Rock School District 429, DeKalb School District 428, Indian Creek School District 425, Sycamore School District 427 and Hiawatha School District 426 will administer the test in April to various grades in both paper and electronic form.
Across Illinois, 677 school districts will take part in the field test for the PARCC exams this spring.
In the spring of 2015, 18 states, including Illinois and Washington, D.C., will take the actual tests. As with the ISAT or PSAE, the test will measure students’ knowledge in math and English in third through 11th grade. The similarities nearly end there.
Unlike the annual ISAT or PSAE, PARCC will be administered twice a year, is designed to be taken on the computer and is built around the Common Core, a curriculum Illinois adopted in 2010.
School districts won’t be told their results after the field test as it is designed to measure the questions, not the students. Local school officials believe the test also will be a measure of how equipped they are for the new exam.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge definitely because of the technology and comfort,” District 426 Superintendent Sarah Willey said.
PARCC assessments were originally intended to be administered entirely on computer, but some school districts will be able to take them using paper and pencil after concerns over school districts’ technological readiness surfaced. Locally, district leaders are spending time and money to prepare.
DeKalb School District 428 could spend $1.1 million to upgrade its computers and its network in order to be able to administer the test. The money will come from the $21 million construction grant the district received.
Sandwich’s $238,750 state technology loan won’t be allotted to improving technology for PARCC, but for making sure the district’s computers run at all. Curriculum Director Wally Marquardt said the district has the infrastructure “backbone” to administer the test, but doubts the district’s computers can handle it.
“The field test is going to be a rude awakening to see what our capabilities are,” Marquardt said. “If anything, it will scare us into getting ready in a hurry.”
Willey believes her district is ready, although students will have to take the test in shifts rather than all at once because of the district doesn’t have enough computers for the roughly 550 students who will have to take the test.
Since the Common Core was adopted, standardized tests have changed from year-to-year to integrate the new curriculum.
The changes, Marquardt said, means school districts don’t have the data to measure students’ annual growth. The jump to PARCC adds another year of data officials can’t compare.
“It’s like apples and oranges,” Marquardt said. “The only real comparison we have is looking at other districts in the state.”
Districts will also have to adapt to the timeframe for administering the new assessment. PARCC assessments will be administered twice a year, a performance based assessment in mid-March to early April and an end of year assessment in late April into May.
The short window to complete the two assessments concerns McGuire because he’s not sure how well it will measure student performance.
“Any test is only as good as the information you get out of it,” McGuire said. “If it tells us how our students are doing then it will be good, but with the two testing windows so close together, I’m not sure how much it will tell us.”