Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education released preliminary results of Illinois students’ performance on the new PARCC exam. The results don’t paint a pretty picture. As almost everyone expected, students scored worse on the PARCC exam than they had performed on the previous state exam, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

The statewide results did not surprise District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo. 

“We knew that with the change to Common Core Standards that, initially, the scores would be lower than we had experienced with the [ISAT] learning standards,” Cavallo said in an email. “It is important to remember that these are baseline scores.”

District, school and individual level results won’t be released until later in the fall. The preliminary statewide results released last week only include scores from students who took the test online, about 75 percent of the total.

In English and language arts, only 38 percent of eighth graders statewide met or exceeded expectations on the PARCC exam based on the results of students. In math, only 31 percent of eighth graders state wide met or exceeded expectations. 

In other grade levels the statewide results were often worse. Only 17 percent of high school students who took the PARCC online met expectations, and none apparently exceeded expectations.

New state school Superintendent Tony Smith agreed with Cavallo, noting that the PARCC exam is a different test than the ISAT. He the results should not be compared to ISAT results from previous years.

“We view this assessment as a new starting point for our conversations about progress and what our kids need to be ready for the next level and what’s coming in the future,” said Smith in a conference call with reporters. “I don’t think comparisons to past or other tests is a wise use of time.”

The PARCC exams are based on the new Common Core learning standards that schools are implementing and aim to test higher-order thinking skills than the ISAT did.

Cavallo has been trying to educate parents about the PARCC exam and has warned parents that scores for District 91 students are likely to be lower on the PARCC exam than that they are accustomed to seeing on the ISATs.

“Last year, we held a PARCC night for parents and explained the change in standards and the change with the new assessment,” Cavallo said. “We let parents know that we will likely experience a change in our scores then.”

Cavallo said that when the district, school, and individual level results are released later this fall, the district will send a letter home to parents explaining the change in the test and the assessment.

PARCC has been a controversial test. It was administered over two different multiday periods last year. Some parents and many educators complained the new test took too much time and took time away from actual instruction. Some parents believe there is far too much high-stakes testing going on in schools today.

In response to these criticisms, the state has combined the two testing periods into one and shortened the test. Cavallo said he favors the changes and believes that the PARCC exam is a better assessment than the old ISAT.

“My primary concerns with the PARCC, the amount of time away from instruction the assessment took, was addressed,” Cavallo said. “The two tests administered last year have been consolidated into one, less lengthy, exam. Overall, I believe that this assessment is much better than the former ISAT.”