As you may know, one of our strategic goals for the 2017-18 school year addresses parent partnerships in learning. This goal encompasses home-school communication in many ways, but also emphasizes the supportive parent/school relationships that are formed through that communication. Today, I write to you asking for your direct assistance in strengthening that partnership with your specific support related to the upcoming PARCC assessment of academic skills.
Each spring, students in grades three through eight are required by the Illinois State Board of Education to participate in a statewide performance assessment. For the fourth consecutive year, Illinois has mandated the use of an assessment developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, commonly known as PARCC. This assessment is aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards (which are also known as the Common Core State Standards), and is designed to measure student achievement against those standards. Our math and reading curricula, and therefore our student learning experiences, are also aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards.
District 58 history with PARCC
For the past few years, District 58 has not emphasized this assessment; we have not used PARCC results to make individual student programming decisions, nor do we intend to this year. However, the results of the assessment can be valuable in reflecting on our programs over time, and in determining whether our curriculum is meeting the needs of our students. Also, as the only statewide data that is publicly available for all schools, PARCC results will likely continue to be used exclusively by external agencies to compare our schools to those across the state.
There have been several conversations this year at School Board meetings and among our teachers and administrators as we have reviewed last year’s PARCC data as compared to last year’s MAP data (which we do emphasize, as it helps us monitor growth and achievement on a regular basis.) Simply put, we know that our students are performing higher on MAP than they are on PARCC; our PARCC scores do not accurately reflect the academic skills and performance abilities of our students. The data that supports this statement can be found on our website at https://dg58.org/assessment-data-review/. We are eager to be able to use PARCC data to analyze student achievement and curricular resources; however, until we are confident that the PARCC data is a fair representation of our students, that analysis would be premature.
The ways we can support our children
It is our responsibility to prepare our students for success; to ensure that their learning is robust and complete, and that they are able to demonstrate their skills when asked. Over the next few weeks, you may hear of your children seeing sample PARCC items, and reviewing the online assessment tools. This is one step in ensuring that our children are able to “show what they (truly) know” and will be embedded within regular instruction; we will not be “teaching to the test” because our instruction is already aligned to the same standards. PARCC is not a test students can study for, but there is value in familiarizing our students with its structure, format and questioning style nonetheless. In fact, the steps we will take in preparation for the PARCC assessments will reinforce skills that are valuable for our students in a number of ways – for example, considering the way we read and respond to detailed questions and learning ways to become familiar with new ways that we can digitally interact with material are both beneficial experiences for all students regardless of an upcoming specific assessment.
Alongside that preparedness, we need to collaboratively create a culture of positive effort around this assessment. Our approach to PARCC should be “can-do” rather than “must-endure.” As with any other assessment, all we ask is genuine best effort; we know that our students are strong, persistent and capable. I am asking your support in encouraging your children to approach PARCC with the same rigor and investment that they would approach MAP or any other in-school task. The words and attitudes experienced at home in discussing this assessment are powerful, and they will have a direct impact on students’ own feelings toward PARCC. We count on you to partner with us as we ask students to simply do their best; we can together minimize anxiety as we maximize the opportunity for students to demonstrate their true abilities.
Your individual teachers and principals will share specific testing dates with you so that you are aware of the days your child(ren) will be taking the PARCC assessment. I also encourage you to watch this video (click the link to play) which helps demonstrate the student experience when taking the assessment; students will be shown the video as well.
Your support means more now than ever…
Beginning in the fall of 2018, there are a series of new criteria that will be used to categorize each school and district in the state of Illinois. Beyond considering PARCC data, the new State plan identifies that any school failing to achieve 95% student participation rate on the PARCC assessment for three consecutive years will be immediately designated as an “underperforming school” regardless of actual achievement. This designation would not only affect statewide perception of a school, but would also compel us to expend district resources on state-mandated correction measures to address this designation based on participation rate. District-wide, our participation rates were 94% in 2016 and 92% in 2017. Failing to reach 95% participation would cause a tangible, concrete impact on our schools, and underscores the importance of supporting your child’s participation in this mandated assessment.
I appreciate your investment in your child’s education, and thank you for your continued partnership. I am available to answer any questions you may have, and look forward to your support in modeling a responsible and engaged approach to the PARCC assessment this April We know that no assessment is perfect, and that no one piece of data can fully capture the entirety of student achievement. However, we owe it to our students and our community to present our best selves to this assessment – and by extension, to all who will see the future results.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction