Starting this spring, public elementary school students in Illinois will take revamped standardized tests in reading and math.
The state’s overhaul of the PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, exams comes after criticism of the test never let up since they were first introduced in 2015.
The state is rebranding the test, calling it the Illinois Assessment of Readiness. When students take the exam starting next month, officials say the main difference they’ll notice is a shorter length. That addresses a big complaint about the PARCC.
“Where we’re really focused on is improving the test experience,” said Rae Clementz, director of assessment and accountability for the Illinois State Board of Education. “The Illinois Assessment of Readiness … reduces testing time by about one third.”
For example, Clementz said students in fourth to eighth grade previously spent 4.5 hours on the English and literacy portion of the test. This spring, that assessment will be reduced to three hours. Teachers had complained that the PARCC exam ate up too much instructional time.
Parents and teachers also criticized the PARCC exam for its difficulty. In 2018, less than 40 percent of test takers, third through eighth grades, were considered proficient in math and reading.
With the Illinois Assessment of Readiness exam, ISBE plans to phase in changes over the next four years to address those concerns. For now, the rigor and types of questions will remain the same.
ISBE also plans to return test results more quickly by 2020. Previously, results trickled in starting in May on a first scored basis. Students didn’t receive individual scores until the summer.
“The goal is to have all results that can be machine scored to schools within a week of the close of the testing window,” Clementz said.
Portions of the exam scored by hand will be returned within a month. Also by 2020, the state plans to move the test completely online.
By 2021, ISBE plans to transition the test to a computer-adaptive design and incorporate questions developed by state educators. If a student gets an answer wrong, the computer-adaptive program will issue an easier question. If there’s a correct response, the next question will be more difficult.
Clementz said the board is also addressing equity for diverse students. By 2022, ISBE plans to develop true native language math assessment. Instead of simply translating questions from English, native speakers will help create that portion of the test.
Clementz said the math and English exams measure students’ mastery and growth, but she stresses the exam isn’t the way to measure student performance.
“We are shifting from a way of thinking about learning from knowing things to really being able to use and communicate effectively what we know and can do,” Clementz said.
The testing window for schools opens March 11 and closes April 26.
Editor's note: The story has been updated to note that students in fourth to eighth grade previously spent 4.5 hours on the English and literacy portion of the test.