And now -- the PARCC! Since mayoral control and corporate 'reform' began 20 years ago, Chicago and Illinois have had lots of the most bestest, better-then-ever, sure-fire test programs... So why is the Sun-Times telling us (again) that PARCC is the really real deal this time for sure!?...

Nearly four years ago, at the December 14, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Sun-Times reporters Rosalind Rossi (left in white sweater) and Kate Grossman (red hair, right) tried to sit impassively while protesters held a people's town hall meeting during the monthly meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. During subsequent years, the Sun-Times, in editorials many of which were written by Grossman, has continually praised corporate "reform" and cited the latest iteration of THE TEST as proof that schools were "failing" in Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Before going on with today's analysis of corporate stupidity, I am offering a new $50 bill for the first person who can email Substance ( listing all of the high-stakes tests that Chicago's public schools have used to prove that the schools are "failing" since 1995. Also, you have to include in your contest entry the name of the person who was "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS at that time and the editorial(s) in the press telling us, once again, that this year's testing program was really showing how things were going -- but of course it would get better by next year.

One of the reasons for making sure that experienced teachers no longer lead Chicago's (or Illinois's) schools is that every teacher knows by the third or fourth year of classroom reality that "passing" or "failing" are really quite arbitrary. If I wanted all of my students in Advanced Placement English Literature And Composition to "fail" a test, I simply required that everyone get 49 out of 50 questions right on the 50-question multiple choice tests I gave every Friday. And if I wanted every to "pass" the "essay" part of their training, all I had to do was perfect what some of the corporate scoring teams have done: weight the length of the answers. Then remind the children that longer was better -- and this is not about sex.

(That's so they don't forget the message...).

One student at Amundsen High School, where I taught AP English (both versions, there are two) for several years came to me once complaining that another teacher had given her an "A" on the once-upon-a-time required senior paper. The "paper" was ten pages long. So what was the problem. It was typed, it had an introduction (first page) and footnotes and a bibliography (pages nine and ten).

And it got an "A" grade!

But then the student showed me pages two through seven. They all read "Mary had a little lamb..." over and over until about page six, when the student got creative and wrote MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB AND THE TEACHER SUCKS!

But on the first page the grade was "A+" with the hand written comment: "Good Work!"

You see, the "requirements" for those final student papers included the foreplay (the introductory material, first page), and the anti-climax (the footnotes and bibliography). But the teacher had learned not to bother reading all those extra words. And so an "A" paper was nonsense. Had this been a honeymoon, the marriage probebly would have faced what are today called "issues." But most of the students kept the secret and were able to complete their "senior paper" with the same kinds of ease. The only problem came because those who actually took the paper seriously and did all the work -- instead of the MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB part, which took some enterprise before COPY and PASTE -- had been shortchanged.

It's the same with anything we test and measure. How we establish our "standards" determines how many people "pass" or "fail." A famous example from American industry involves drivers licensing. Because the Auto industry and public policy want most Americans to drive (even though many no drive drunk or high, and a growing number have become hazards on the road because they believe they can multi-task by "texting" while driving), almost everyone can pass the drivers' test and get a state-issued driving license.

So we have had years of nonsense about "standards and accountability" based on single tests that even the most veteran member of the ISBE cannot list in order. QUESTION: When was the ISAT the BIG TEST for Illinois Schools? And now we have the PARCC, and the editorial nonsense such as in the September 17, 2015 Chicago Sun-Times assuring us that PARCC (like the ITBS, the TAP, the IGAP, the ISAT and I won't give away the rest of this silliness) will "get better." After all, the trick with corporate "reform" is to have some "instrument" to provide "data" to prove that a lot (or most, depending upon the year and the political tone of things) of public schools are "failing."


As hed been warning, the Illinois state superintendent of education revealed startlingly low preliminary scores from an involved and controversial new standardized test Wednesday.

Illinois became the first of the 11 states and the District of Columbia that use the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test to release any results, albeit, only statewide scores from children who took the test online. Pencil-and-paper exams also were given but were not yet ready, and the scores could not yet be reported by district or student.

What Supt. Tony Smith revealed was a vast majority of those students in Illinois were not yet proficient in math or English language arts, with only between 28 percent and 38 percent of third- through eighth-graders meeting state standards. The percentage of high-schoolers in Algebra I or Integrated Math I who exceeded standards was zero; 17 percent met them.

More Illinois students were proficient in English than in math, except for third-graders. Of the five performance levels approved Wednesday by the Illinois State Board of Education, only children who score in levels 4 or 5 are considered proficient. That said, the test carries no consequences for anyone this year.

Smith called the preliminary scores a baseline for going forward, and said that the results alone dont tell the whole story.

I think we should use this new test as a new starting point for our conversations about progress, and what our kids need to be ready for the next level of whats coming in the future, he said.

In March, PARCC replaced the Illinois State Achievement Test previously administered to grade school students and the Prairie State Achievement Examination for 11th graders. While those tests asked for multiple choice answers during a few hours, PARCC given over several days and at two different points in the school year tests math and English literacy by asking in-depth questions and asking students to show their work.

Smith warned against comparing the new tests with the old since theyre so different. However, parents are sure to notice, for example, that the range of students proficient on last years ISAT was about 25 percentage-points higher.

Robin Steans, director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois, called PARCC an honest improvement over the ISAT so parents and teachers can intervene with struggling children sooner.

This isnt The sky is falling. This is a reset. Its an appropriate reset. Its a long overdue reset, she said. Over time, its going to prove out to be a stronger instrument.

But the Chicago Teachers Union accused PARCC of being inappropriate for the target grades and coyly designed for students to fail.

If you believe these scores have merit, I have some swampland in Brooklyn to sell you and a lot of it, CTU President Karen Lewis said. These scores have very little to do with how children learn.

The parent group Raise Your Hand, which has been lobbying for a law to let parents opt their children out of PARCC, maintained that the test is a blatant waste of scarce resources in a state that ranks at the bottom of the nation for state funding of public education and near the top for inequity across rich vs. poor school districts, director Wendy Katten wrote. Our state and citys education leaders must stop using test scores to attack schools rather than support them.

In Chicago, many parents kept their children from taking PARCC, saying that the test itself wasnt ready to be administered on a mass scale, and that CPS children also had to take another test each spring that counts toward teacher and school evaluations.

Former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett tried to persuade state officials to let CPS skip PARCC, arguing that many CPS children lacked the necessary computer skills. But threats from the former state superintendent to withhold $1 billion from federal funding tied to standardized testing under the federal No Child Left Behind law forced her hand.

As a result, many children purposely skipped the test, though neither CPS nor the Illinois State Board of Education could say how many. Data originally reported by Catalyst Chicago showed that principals self-reported 9,600 opt-outs among Chicago public schoolchildren.

ISBE will know how many opted out when district- and student-level scores become available, perhaps not until late November, Smith said. State report cards and individual student reports are normally published on Nov. 1.

Were a little bit in the dark. I dont know a good answer of when were going to get all the data back from Pearson, Smith said. So weve been pushing as hard as we possibly can.

Pearson, the British company holding a multimillion-dollar contract to administer PARCC in Illinois, said a statement that it was honoring all agreed-upon deadline.


Two words immediately come to mind when looking at preliminary data, released Wednesday, on last springs PARCC standardized school test: Abysmal and incomplete.

Less than a third of Illinois students from fourth grade to high school met or exceeded expectations on the math portion of PARCC, an acronym for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Proficiency scores in English were slightly better: from a low of 31 percent for high school students to a high of 38 percent among eighth graders.


But before we all start freaking out, its important to remember that PARCC is a new test and first-year scores grim as they are provide a useful baseline by which to judge students future performance. PARCC is a tough test by intent, meant to better measure what really matters in a sound education. To compare these scores with those of the old state exam, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, is a matter of apples and oranges. The drop in supposed proficiency is dramatic, more than 25 percentage points in math for some grade levels.

PARCC is designed to examine a students ability to think through a problem, in line with Common Core standards. That gets closer to the challenges in real life than simply testing rote memory with multiple-choice questions. High school students probably were thrown for a loop after years of filling in bubbles on answer sheets. That may explain why in part they tested particularly poorly; only 17 percent were proficient in math.

Still, PARCCs rollout was clumsy. Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith correctly called it unacceptable that data from the tests results are only trickling out. School districts want that data now so they can adjust curriculum to students needs. Yet, they wont know for a few months more how their own students performed last spring. Smith roughly estimated that only about 75 percent of the tests, those completed on computers, had even been graded. Others done on paper, in Braille, Spanish or using sign language are still being evaluated.

We dont know yet how many students opted out of the test, but we do know the movement had momentum. We hope more students take the test in 2016, though we understand why many declined this year; they are fried from too much testing. Next years PARCC test has been rejiggered to take less time to complete.

Its important to remember, too, that PARCC is only one measure of success, albeit an important one. The best research shows that grades those good old As, Bs, Cs, Ds and dreaded Fs and school attendance matter most in determining success in high school and college. They reflect progress and effort over time.

Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials.


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