Illinois schools are preparing to implement a new standardized test based on the Common Core standards. Some school districts have pleaded with state officials to delay the implementation of the new test, but Springfield school officials say they're ready.
Educators refer to this new test as the PARCC test. That’s the acronym for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It’s a standardized test, designed by the Pearson company, that will be given to most Illinois students beginning in March.
Ideally, students will take the test on computers or tablets, although an old-fashioned paper-and-pencil version is also available. Schools got a chance to test drive the PARCC last spring, and more than half of Springfield schools participated.
Anne Morris, testing and evaluation coordinator for District 186, dispelled some of the myths about the technological requirements of PARCC.
“The way this works is that we have a server that downloads the content of each individual child’s test before they take it. So it’s sitting on a server within the district," Morris said. "The kids have an ID number that they log in and take the test. Every three or four test questions, that data is pushed back -- saved back to the server and to Pearson -- so it’s not a live streaming connection.
"People who are saying that we need tons and tons of bandwidth really are not understanding the process. It’s a process called proctor caching," she said. "What they do need is good servers.”
The computerized version of the test includes some nifty bells and whistles. Kids can cross out items on multiple choice sections, and drag bits of text to put story elements in order. There’s even an electronic prompt that teachers can send to redirect a student’s attention back to the test. But at Blackhawk Elementary, nobody had to use that button, according to Sheila Boozer, who was the principal at Blackhawk last year.
“I was watching them and they were 100 percent engaged and trying very hard. I was impressed,” Boozer said.
Boozer is now the director of teaching, learning and technology for District 186, and she’s helping Morris prepare the district for the PARCC. They say the practice run did revealed a few glitches with the test.
“They thought they were hitting save. Instead of save, they were hitting submit,” Boozer said.
“There were quite a few glitches in it that PARCC has been able to fix,” Morris said.
As for the meat of the test, there’s no way to know for sure how Springfield kids performed on last year’s practice run. The PARCC website cites a survey showing that about one-third of students nationwide rated the language arts portion of the test more difficult than their usual school work, and about two-thirds found the math portion harder. Boozer has heard that most students found the test challenging.
“I went to a workshop about three weeks ago, and it was stated that 72% of the students who took the PARCC did say that it was the hardest exam they had ever experienced because of the type of questions," she said. "The students in my building, when I asked them, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, Ms. Boozer, this was difficult, but we can do it.’ ”
Morris says that thanks to that pilot test, Springfield educators feel confident that they have the equipment, the infrastructure and the knowledge to help students be successful..
“Well, I can say from our standpoint, we feel like we’re pretty ready! We’ve done so much instructional preparation," she said. "We’re not ‘prepping for a test’ here; we’re instructing.”
Springfield students will begin taking the PARCC test in March.