Students at Forest Park School District 91 are taking a new state standardized test this week — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

The test replaces the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test (ISAT) and requires more critical-thinking, problem-solving, analytical skills and more organized math skills and concepts.

The first part of PARCC, which includes 60 minutes of testing in mathematics and English language arts, will be given for four or five days this week to students in third through eighth grades in D91.

The second part will be given in May.

D91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo said teachers have been working to prepare students for the test for the last 2-3 years, and he expects test week to go smoothly.

“The staff has been fantastic when it comes to preparing students. It’s a lot of work and I’m proud of them,” Cavallo said. “I think our students will be more prepared than other districts.” 

PARCC is aligned with Common Core Standards, which are higher quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts. It was created with the goal of ensuring that all students eventually graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career and life.

D91 board member Eric Connor said the test is a shift from a rote learning process to a reasoned learning process. But he noted some parents have concerns that the test, which is online, takes away from instruction time and has poorly framed questions that aren’t clear enough and won’t lead to good results.

“If that’s the way it’s formatted, I can see why people are complaining,” Connor said. “Questions may be framed incorrectly or the graphics not made properly. When people see the PARCC scores, it may be the end of PARCC.”

Cavallo said he hasn’t received any complaints about poorly framed questions, and he believes the questions on the new test will allow teachers to get a better understanding of what students know, as opposed to multiple-choice questions.

Parent Rina Peterson said the test is important for students, but she hopes teachers aren’t spending too much time preparing for the test because they would lose lots of instruction time.

Another potential problem is that the test site may become overloaded with too many users at one time.

“They probably can’t complete the test because the site may break,” Connor said.

Forest Park Middle School hosted a PARCC night, March 4, where families were able to get a sample of the test and see demonstrations from teachers on how technology would be used on the test.

One parent asked Cavallo if students would be able to opt-out of the test and Cavallo replied that the test is required by law.

“It’s mandated that we give it. It’s not something you can just decide not to do,” Cavallo said. “If school districts don’t give out the test, they could lose state funding.”

Peterson, who has a first and third grader at Field Stevenson Elementary School, attended PARCC night and walked from classroom to classroom to see the demonstrations from D91 teachers.

Cavallo, she said, announced that the district will give the test for two years before it releases any test results so they can compare it with previous years.

“If we’re not getting the results, then what are we taking the test for? Why don’t we just compare our results with other school districts?” Peterson said. “We should collectively know how we do, what we’re doing right, wrong and know what we need to do to improve for next year.”

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