Like Some Students, State Tries To Win Over Parents On Sobering Report Card Data

CPS reverses decision about PARCC exam
CPS reverses decision about PARCC exam

Like Some Students, State Tries To Win Over Parents On Sobering Report Card Data

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

The message parents should take from Monday’s newly released state report card data is that despite Illinois’ financial difficulties, school performance is steady — for the most part, according to state officials. 

John Barker, the state’s new chief of performance, pointed out that overall graduation rates, attendance rates and ACT scores are either the same or up a little compared with last year. 

Two areas of concern: Chronic truancy rates, which look at students who missed 5 percent or more days without a valid excuse, increased from 8.7 percent to 9.8 percent. Also, the number of students in preschool went down by more than 12,000 children.

Barker acknowledged that, for the second year in a row, parents will likely be disappointed when they get a look at their school’s state test score data. This summer, state officials announced that only 40 percent of students overall are deemed proficient on state exams called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. 

“There are challenges ahead,” Barker told reporters Friday. 

Chicago Public Schools saw an increase in proficiency on the PARCC exams from 24.5 percent in 2015 to 25.3 percent in 2016. That includes a slight dip in reading and language arts proficiency, and a slight increase in math. What happened at CPS mirrored the state.

The PARCC exam replaced the ISAT and has been used for only the past two years. Even before Illinois started using the PARCC exams, state officials warned that student test scores would tank.

The implementation of tests driven by what are called Common Core standards — which are controversial academic benchmarks adopted in dozens of states — has been rocky. Some parents and teachers have complained that the tests are too long and confusing. 

Across the nation and in Illinois, there have been efforts to boycott the PARCC. It’s been widely reported that about 5 percent of eligible student in Illinois didn’t take the exam last year.

The state announced in July that it will stop giving PARCC exams to high school juniors after superintendents said students preferred to focus on college entrance exams. The state next year will give juniors the SAT college test instead of the PARCC exams.

But those who support the transition to the PARCC exams said that tests based on state standards, like the ISAT, were too easy and did not ask students to use complex skills that they will need in order to be competitive in the world. 

Barker pointed out that the PARCC exams provide better information to schools about where students are struggling than did the ISAT.

“We have a clearer picture,” he said.

Though students in Chicago take the PARCC exams, the district has yet to use it for ranking how well a school performs or determining which students are enrolled in coveted selective schools. That means that some highly rated Chicago schools could have dismal PARCC scores, painting a contradictory picture for parents.

In fact, the state’s largest school district did not release PARCC scores for schools this year. The state report card is the first time Chicago parents can get a glimpse of how CPS students did on the test. 

An analysis of the report card data shows:

  • Overall, 2.5 percent of students did not take the PARCC exams, but much higher percentages of students sat out in some notable school districts. Morton School District 201 in Cicero had 35 percent of students skip the reading test and nearly half did not take the math test. In Winnetka School District 36, 13 percent of students did not take PARCC exams. 
  • For Chicago Public Schools, 6.8 percent of students opted out of the PARCC exams. Some schools where parents have actively protested the exam, like Blaine Elementary in Lakeview and Drummond Elementary in Wicker Park, had more than half of the students not take the PARCC exams. But performance on the test tracks closely with previous trends. The highest performers are selective enrollment schools, including Northside College Preparatory High School, where 100 percent of students are deemed proficient on the PARCC exams; and Keller and Decatur Classical schools, where 95 percent met that mark. There are about 45 schools where less than 5 percent of students were proficient on the PARCC exams.
  • Statewide, traditionally high performing school districts also did well on the PARCC exams. Newark’s Lisbon School District 90 and north suburban Lincolnshire-Prairieview School District each had 83 percent of their students deemed proficient. Meanwhile, Cairo School District 1 and Brooklyn School District 188—two of the state’s poorest school districts—had less than 5 percent deemed proficient.