Mahomet-Seymour to pilot PARCC assessment

Nearly 300 students in the Mahomet-Seymour School District will take part in the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Assessment) pilot after spring break.

The Mahomet-Seymour School District was randomly chosen to pilot the test.Ten percent of the student population from the 19 states using the PARCC exam during the 2014-2015 school year will pilot the test. Mahomet-Seymour will administer the pilot test to some students in grades five, seven, 11, Algebra I and Geometry.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core standards. The PARCC exam completely aligns with the Common Core standards, and is expected to measure students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, along with their ability to communicate clearly. Other states have adopted the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

The Mahomet-Seymour School District is mandated by State law to follow Common Core Standards and administer the PARCC assessment. The PARCC assessment will completely replaced the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) in the 2014-2015 school year.

The PARCC exam will consist of two components, the performance-based component to be given in March and the end-of-the-year multiple choice component to be given in May. Districts should be able to view end-of-the-year test results almost immediately.

Although the Mahomet-Seymour School District was randomly chosen to participate in the pilot, they could have opted-out. Director of Instruction Mary Weaver said by participating, the district will gain valuable information to use next year when the stakes are higher.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this next year for 3,000 kids without having this experience right now,” Weaver said.

Preparation for the PARCC exam has been extensive over the course of the year. Weaver spent many hours learning how to enter student and teacher data into the system, and training teachers on how to administer the test.

Administrators and staff will also be able to assess test set-up times, get a feel for the layout of the test, understand student needs during the test, and examine technology requirements needed to run the computer-based assessment. The district will be able to support the technology requirements of the PARCC exam with their 250-Mbps bandwidth.

Although the district has computer labs in each school, they are also looking into portable options, which will free up computer labs during the testing process. With total of eight to ten testing hours per grade level, the district realizes administering the test in computer labs will divert instruction and research time in these areas.

Elementary and junior high students will pilot the test with paper and pencil this spring, while high school students will use the computer. Elementary and junior high students will only take the performance-based exam, while high school students will take both components of the test.

Although pencil and paper exams will be available for students who have a specific need in the future, the majority of students will be expected to take the PARCC exam on the computer. By using a computer-based format, the test can include electronic enhancements such as assisted typing and a built-in calculator for higher level math.

Students were still required by the federal government  to take the ISAT test this spring. Although No Child Left Behind legislation has expired, new legislation has not replaced the old standards. Schools are still required by federal law to show Annual Yearly Progress.

Although ISAT test questions reflected Common Core standards this year, Weaver said the district will not spend much time with in-depth analysis of the ISAT scores.

The U.S. Department of Education (USEd) approved the ISBE waiver for double-testing in late February. Elementary students only taking the performance-based component did not qualify for the waiver.

Earlier this winter, Weaver told the Mahomet-Seymour School Board PARCC testing times are similar to those in the ISAT model. ISAT tests students for a total of 360 minutes, whereas, the PARCC exam will test students for a total of 480 minutes in elementary school and up to 595 minutes at the high school level between the two components. Weaver explained these preliminary numbers include test set-up and test administration time.

Growing concern also surrounds the amount of time high school juniors will be tested in the State of Illinois. The junior-level PARCC exam is expected to take a total of 9 hours and 55 minutes between the two components.

Illinois juniors have taken the two-day Prairie State Achievement Exam, which includes the ACT, for free since 2001. Weaver said the ACT scores not only provide the district with important information, it also has proven validity for college readiness.

Although colleges have not said they will accept the PARCC results over ACT results, Illinois is currently reviewing their ACT policy, as it will become an added expense on top of a tight budget, but also provides some students the possibility of attending college.

“Because students are required to take the test, they see their scores and may consider college,” Weaver said. “There is value to testing every kid. If it wasn’t provided, some students may not be able take the test.”

Weaver said she sees the concern with the amount of testing students piloting the program will see this year. Because the district will not receive the results of the PARCC assessment pilot, Weaver said the district will stress the importance of the test for district use rather than the importance for the individual student.

“We’re going to try to minimize test anxiety, and let the kids know this is a fun opportunity,” Weaver said. “The emphasis and stress of the test will not accompany the pilot. And we will instill that in the students.”

Weaver added that because of the nature of the PARCC assessment, the preparation leading up to the exam will not be so stressful year-to-year. Classrooms in the Mahomet-Seymour School District, alongside many other school districts statewide, spend 30-minutes daily preparing students to be successful on the ISAT.

“We won’t take a month to prepare for PARCC,” she said. “PARCC will be a natural extension of what the activities (in the classroom) are. I don’t want to say what’s going on now is lost time because it’s valuable and what’s been needed for our success. The actual assessment of PARCC is good instruction. The test the kids are being asked to do are authentic tests.”

Even with extensive test preparation, the Mahomet-Seymour School District was never able to analyze whether students were unable to comprehend the format of the test, the way the questions were worded or if the student just did not know the information on the assessment. PARCC will release 75 percent of the questions to participating school districts prior to the exam so administrators and staff can better access student strengths and weaknesses.

Aligned with the Common Core standards, the PARCC exam will test students’ ability to problem-solve rather than memorize a set of facts.

“It’s not just asking them to memorize something, and show you’ve memorized it so you can pass a test,” Weaver said. “It’s learn this concept, learn how and why you got the answer, then prove it when you’re given the opportunity. This is a skill people in the workforce need.”

The PARCC assessment will also assess students’ writing skills. Weaver said instead of reading a prompt, then figuring out what ISAT wants students to do, the PARCC exam will assess a students’ ability to take and defend a position in real-life situations.

Weaver said the district will continue to teach mechanics in both math and language arts instruction while also emphasizing application after they understand the basic concepts.

“Both (Mr. Johnston) and I believe we take what the State has said we are going to do, and then we do our best to make it fit with what we are doing (as a district),” Weaver said.

Students in the Mahomet-Seymour school district will continue to take MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) assessments throughout the school year. The district will continue to adjust their assessment model with State standards as they are released.

Parents will be notified if their child has been chosen to participate in the pilot.

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