The state results from the PARCC exam are in, and they’re consistent with the low expectations the state’s schools Superintendent Tony Smith, a River Forest resident, anticipated back in September, when, in a letter to school administrators, he cautioned against using the “results to shame teachers or schools.”

“We need to celebrate the good work our teachers and schools are doing to teach the new content our children must have for success in the future,” Smith wrote at the time.

The test, which stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is aligned with the more rigorous Common Core standards. The test replaces the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) and the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE).

Last spring, students across the state took the new exam for the first time. It was administered in two parts, with the performance-based assessment taken in March and the end-of-year assessment taken in April. 

The test comprised two sections — English and Language Arts (ELA) and math. Student performance was scored on a five-level gradient, with level 1 indicating “minimal understanding of subject matter” and level 5 showing “distinguished understanding,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s PARCC fact sheet.

Levels 4 and 5 scores indicate that students either “met” or “exceeded” expectations, while Levels 2 and 3 indicate that students either “partially met” or “approached” expectations. A level 1 score means a student “did not yet meet” expectations.

At Proviso Township High Schools District 209, the test was administered to certain classes of freshmen, sophomores and juniors in English and math. District-wide, around 20 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the PARCC exam, while 53 percent partially met or approached expectations. 

In the ELA section, 29 percent of district students who took the test met or exceeded expectations while 44 percent partially met or approached expectations. More than 37 percent of eligible students, however, did not take the ELA section of the test. In the math section, only around 13 percent of district students met or exceeded expectations, while 41 percent either partially met or approached expectations. More than 22 percent did not take the math section of the exam. 

At the school-level, the difference in performance rates between Proviso East and Proviso Math and Science Academy were striking. While PMSA’s PARCC performance was on par with some of the state’s elite schools, at least in the ELA portion of the test; Proviso East’s performance was among the state’s lowest.

At Proviso East, roughly 8 percent of eligible students met or exceeded expectations on the ELA section of the test while more than 50 percent of eligible students did not take that section of the test. Less than 2 percent of eligible students met or exceeded the math section while nearly 33 percent did not take that section of the test.

In comparison, nearly 80 percent of PMSA students who took PARCC met or exceeded expectations on the ELA section, with virtually all of eligible students taking that portion of the test. In math, around 46 percent of PMSA students met or exceeded expectations, with virtually all eligible students taking that section of the test.

PARCC results were low for most schools across the state, with even top-tier schools like New Trier and Hinsdale Central showing a much lower percentage of students demonstrating proficiency on PARCC than on the PSAE, particularly in the math portion.

“While important, the PARCC assessment is only one metric by which we measure student progress,” noted District 91 officials in a Dec. 14 emailed statement. “That is why we have and will continue to focus our efforts on creating conditions that promote effective teaching practices and improve student learning versus increasing participation on a single test.”

According to information on the Illinois Report Card, the results connected to the new exam “may seem lower the first few years since some content varies from previous tests and PARCC asks questions in different ways.

“Students must now show or explain their work and defend their reasoning. A student who was performing well on the previous tests might not do as well on the new PARCC test while another student might perform better than before. This first year’s PARCC scores will set a new baseline showing where students excel and where they need additional support.”