Testing changes made in Illinois

Beginning in spring 2015, high schools in participating states will distribute assessments from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) to students. The exam is directly linked to the Common Core State Standards.

For Illinois, a “PARCC state,” this means that the assessments will be completely aligned with new learning targets. High school students will take the PARCC exam instead of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), while students in grades three to eight will take the PARCC exam in place of the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT).

PARCC aims to set a national level of rigor, Mark Onuscheck, Stevenson Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment said.

“The driving force of the Common Core is to ensure that that students across the nation are learning and that our schools are held to more consistent, equitable and rigorous standards of learning,” Onuscheck said. “PARCC is an assessment that works to measure how well students are meeting the Common Core Standards.”

The PARCC exam also encourages critical thinking and problem solving skills. Any assessment of college and career readiness must comply with this idea, Amanda Simhauser, spokeswoman for the Illinois Board of Education said.

“The exam requires students to explain how the answer they chose is right,” she said. “In doing so, PARCC goes a little above and beyond our previous assessments, the ISAT and the PSAE.”

The PARCC exam, unlike the ACT college readiness assessment, will not be used by colleges for admission. According to Simhauser, the ACT and SAT currently remain the primary college entrance exams. PARCC intends to make college- and career-ready determinations based on their new high school tests.

“They’re two very different tests,” Katie Wacker, ACT Senior Public Relations Associate, said. “The ACT has always been primarily for the use of colleges as they consider student applications. The PARCC exam is meant for the K-12 education world to measure progress from grade to grade.”

Both tests aim for college and career readiness. However, Wacker said that ACT, an Iowa-based nonprofit that has been around since 1959, is unlikely to combine with the consortium that developed the PARCC assessments.

“The two exams were developed differently, for different reasons and for different purposes,” she said.

Stevenson juniors can expect to take the PARCC assessment spring 2015. Right now, the administration is gathering information regarding what the test will look like in terms of paper and pencil versus computer based—PARCC’s preferred method.

According to Simhauser, PARCC puts an emphasis on technology for a reason.

“Today, students are using technology more and more,” she said. “A computer based exam will reflect the type of work students are encountering on a regular basis and after high school.”

While the recent implementation of iPads have proven that technology has become increasingly common in the classroom, Stevenson has yet to decide which method will ensure the best results for students.

“Right now, we have a choice,” Onuscheck said. “However, we will get more direction from the state. We know that online testing would be an adjustment for students away from traditional pencil and paper and we want to make sure students are comfortable and prepared for their testing environment.”

Although the exact method in which students will take the PARCC exam is still up for debate, come spring 2015, exams will be distributed. In doing so, Stevenson and other high schools are taking a step towards a nationwide standard of rigor.

“Stevenson has always been a rigorous and supportive place to go to school,” Onuscheck said. “Our students want to be better; they want to reach their full potential, and we look for ways to support every student. The PARCC exam assesses if students are getting the academic skills they will need to be successful in continuing their education and to function well in a workplace.”