Illinois test results plummet under new Common Core exams

Illinois test results plummet under new Common Core exams
WBEZ/Linda Lutton
Illinois test results plummet under new Common Core exams
WBEZ/Linda Lutton

Illinois test results plummet under new Common Core exams

As expected, the percentage of Illinois schoolchildren deemed to be meeting standards has plunged in the state’s first year of Common Core testing, prompting state superintendent Tony Smith to declare the scores “simply a new baseline from which we can move forward” and warn that he doesn't want the lower results used “to shame teachers or schools.”

This first look at scores from the controversial PARCC test may not be representative—the results, which Smith called a “super draft,” leave out between 25 and 30 percent of the nearly 1.1 million tests taken, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Paper-and-pencil versions of the exams, given in situations where schools did not have the capacity to test all students by computer, are still being scored, the agency says. Right now, the state is only releasing results from tests students took online.

The scores show:

  • In elementary school, where students are tested in grades 3 through 8, between 33 percent and 38 percent of students met or exceeded standards in English. The percentage meeting standards in math was generally lower—between 26 percent and 36 percent.
  • In high school, just 31 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in English. For math, the percentage meeting expectations was 17 percent, with zero percent exceeding those standards.

Determinations like those—no students exceeding math standards in Illinois—re-opened criticisms of the exams.

It’s “ludicrous” said Cassie Creswell, a leader in the local anti-testing movement who considers the test “illegitimate” and who encouraged parents to opt their children out of the PARCC last spring. “How many students get a 3, 4 or 5 every year in AP Calculus? Those students aren’t exceeding expectations? How many kids from Illinois public high schools go on to Ivy League schools ? Stanford, U of C, MIT. And yet somehow zero percent of students are exceeding expectations in math.”

Cresswell described a war going on between “people who want to privatize public education and those that don’t,”and said she saw profit motives for education materials, test-prep companies, and privately run schools in convincing  the public their schools are failing.

Others see the PARCC, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, as a necessary if sobering elevation of standards in a world in which the U.S. has fallen behind on international exams.

“Things are changing,” state superintendent Smith told Illinois reporters. “What the kids need to know and be able to do to be successful tomorrow is not what they needed to know and be able to do yesterday. So these new assessments are going to help us figure that out.”

Smith said it was “unacceptable” that the state does not have all test score results back yet—students took a first round of PARCC exams in March and a second in May. Under the old ISAT exams, districts and schools would already have their scores.

Pearson, the world’s largest education company, has a four-year contract totaling $161 million to develop, administer and score Illinois’ exams. Pearson said Wednesday it is on track to meet all the deadlines in its contract. It is slated to deliver the final batch of test results to the state on Monday. State officials say they will then conduct an extensive data quality check, at least a two-week job, before beginning to compile PARCC results for districts—and updating Wednesday’s preliminary statewide numbers.

Smith said it’s the state’s goal to make good on an original promise of the new Common Core tests—that results would be returned to schools and families much sooner, so parents and schools can address academic shortfalls.

The deadlines in this first year of the exam were set by PARCC, Inc., a consortium of states, including Illinois, collaborating on the creation of the new Common Core test. That consortium recently set “performance levels” for the exam, which Illinois’ state school board adopted Wednesday.

The levels are:

Level 1: Did not meet academic expectations

Level 2: Partially met academic expectations

Level 3: Approached academic expectations

Level 4: Met academic expectations

Level 5: Exceeded expectations

Parents will see where their child falls in both math and reading. Individual scores are expected later this fall.

Robin Steans, executive director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois, says many more parents this year will see that their child is not meeting standards.  She says that should prompt conversations with schools and teachers, which she sees as positive.

“They should take it seriously, they should absolutely talk with teachers,” said Steans. However, “they shouldn’t assume that something went wrong at the school or the classroom—but that we’ve made some changes that hopefully, ultimately are going to be good for their child in terms of better preparing them for what’s really out there.”

Illinois’ statewide results will be comparable across state lines—something impossible under prior testing systems in which each state had developed its own accountability exam.

Ten states and Washington, D.C. are part of PARCC. But as Common Core has been attacked from both the left and the right, states have pulled out of the consortium. Ohio is the only other state to have released PARCC results so far.

Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her at @WBEZeducation