Forest Park students who take the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test next year may be relieved by some of the changes to the exam announced on May 20 by the PARCC governing board.

Perhaps most significantly, the PARCC test will only be administered once during the 2015-16 school year. This year, students in grades 3-9 sat for the test twice — once in the fall for the “Performance-Based Assessment” and once in the spring for the “End-of-Year” exam. Each testing window lasted 8-9 hours, depending on the grade level, over the course of a week. 

According to a statement released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the single testing window “will simplify administration of the test for states and schools that expressed concerns about the challenge of scheduling two testing windows.

“The test window will be 30 days and will extend from when roughly 75 percent of the school year is complete to the 90 percent mark. Most schools will complete testing in one to two weeks during that window,” according to the statement.

In addition to the consolidated testing window, the number of units on the exam will be reduced “from eight or nine, depending on the grade level, to six or seven.” And the amount of time most students will be required to sit for the test will be reduced by 90 minutes — 60 minutes for math and 30 minutes for English language arts (ELA).

The significant changes to PARCC come in the wake of a pronounced uptick in the number of students throughout the country, most with the explicit support of their parents, who were opting out of the exam due to a range of concerns about the test. 

“Those concerns include the amount of time it takes to finish the exam; that the exam has not been adequately developed; that its rollout this year is bound to be more disruptive to student learning than helpful; that it tests children at two grade levels higher than they are; and that the rigors of the test, and of an overreliance on testing in general, may have the potential to harm the emotional and cognitive development of very young children,” according to a March Wednesday Journal article.

New ISBE superintendent Tony Smith, an Oak Park resident who sits on the PARCC governing board, said the board made the changes “in response to the insights and comments we’ve heard from teachers, students and parents. 

“These changes to the structure will not take away from the PARCC test’s vital purpose to ensure that each student in every school is learning the skills and knowledge needed in order to advance to the next grade level and ultimately, college and/or careers,” Smith said.

District 91 Supt. Lou Cavallo said the changes should benefit students.

“By having a single, shorter, test administration, we will have less testing time and more time for instruction. Scheduling two testing windows presented challenges and conflicted with administration of other important tests that we must give, resulting in a great deal of time testing instead of learning.” 

Cavallo said he is “thrilled” by the PARCC Board decision but thinks further adjustments may be necessary.

“This change is significant,” he said, “but the governing board should continue to monitor and evaluate assessment.” He said Public Act 098-1075 established an Assessment Review Task Force, which Cavallo was appointed to, is responsible for reviewing standardized testing in Illinois and reporting findings to the governor and General Assembly. 

“This move was certainly a step in the right direction,” he said, “but continued evaluation is needed. For example, evaluation of how this year’s administration of the test will correlate to the revised exam is needed. This year was to be the baseline. Will there be a need to establish a new baseline now that the exam has changed? Will that push back the time-frame for districts to receive results? Will the beginning-of-the-year PARCC diagnostic exam that will allow districts to make real-time instructional decisions be available to all districts as was recommended? There are still issues that need to be addressed.”  

He is especially happy, however, that teacher will have more instruction time in the classroom.

“The amount of time it takes to administer the PARCC has been the most prevalent complaint by educators and parents alike,” Cavallo said. Teaching more rigorous Common Core State Standards with less time to do so because of the requirement to spend more time testing didn’t make much sense. This is absolutely a move in the right direction.”

Thomas Vogel contributed to this article.