While Winnetka Superintendent Trisha Kocanda has made national headlines questioning the state-mandated PARCC exam, Wilmette District 39 Superintendent Dr. Ray Lechner had remained quiet on this topic until last week. Dr. Lechner sent the following email to District 39 families about the upcoming PARCC exam:
Dear District 39 Families,
Once the snow storm passed, and students came back to school, the fretting in social media around Wilmette shifted to PARCC. As I read through some posts, there are expressions of concern about the upcoming PARCC (and some misinformation)…..so as I do, I begin musing.
As I reflected about the PARCC assessment, I thought I’d share a few insights. What many don’t know is that we are one of a few school systems that boldly stepped forward and piloted PARCC last year. In my view this experience really gave us a much needed head start in preparing for the official implementation this year. By participating in the pilot, we got a preview of the test itself, including the compatibility with our technology infrastructure and the students’ interaction with the computer-based format. We learned that although the test is more challenging, students found it significantly more engaging than the ISAT. In particular, students liked the technology tools built into the test.
PARCC is significantly better than ISAT because it looks for much more than “do you know the answer.” PARCC aims to measure achievement toward grade level goals and application of critical thinking skills. Yes, it is challenging, but this is an improvement over ISAT since our concern has always been that ISAT results didn’t reflect our students’ achievement levels or their ability to apply the analytical skills they need for future success. As I think about PARCC’s potential, I have to ask myself, “How can measuring these “college ready” skills be anything other than a good thing?”
Yes, PARCC is a state mandated test, just like ISAT was, and IGAP before that. Yes, PARCC takes more time and resources to administer than did ISAT – an average of 9.5 hours of testing for PARCC compared to 5.5 hours for ISAT. These are the aspects of PARCC I do not like, so much so, that I shared my own fretting with the State Superintendent and local legislators. Other districts have shared similar concerns, and we will wait to see if the State is receptive to suggestions made by folks in the trenches.
PARCC is developing an assessment “growth model” that includes diagnostic tests; these could be similar to our own Performance Series. We haven’t seen the PARCC data yet, and we don’t know how quickly we will get spring PARCC results, so it’s premature for me to make any judgements or comparisons. But, I can certainly dream about the positive outcomes that could result: What if PARCC results were so good and timely that we were able to replace Performance Series…whoa!…we might end up with excellent data and less overall testing. While that would be great, we have no choice but to wait and see what PARCC produces. While we wait, it is prudent to ensure that our students are not bogged down with testing overload; we will not administer the spring Performance Series test for 3rd -8th graders since they will be taking PARCC.
So, I can see there are potential benefits to the new PARCC assessments, but for me the jury is still out. I don’t yet have the data and experience I need to make a sound judgement. I know we are an informed community, and I am urging everyone to avoid knee jerk reactions. Instead, let’s collect data from this first PARCC assessment, reflect on the experience and impact for D39, and then evaluate our options.
I am asking teachers, parents, and students not to worry about this test. There will likely be implementation issues and, in my view, the next two years of testing will produce “baseline” data. So let’s get a little gritty, demonstrate our resilience and perseverance, and move forward with some optimism.
If you have questions, or just want to increase your comfort level with PARCC, be sure to attend one of the parent education sessions we have planned – the evening of February 19th or the morning of February 24th. Details can be found here.
So for now, I am going back to fretting about the weather.
Your partner in education,
Dr. Ray Lechner
Wilmette Public Schools District 39
District 39 will be holding two parent education sessions that will provide parents with an overview of the new assessments, a hands-on experience with a practice test, and an opportunity to ask questions. Parents are welcome to attend either: February 19, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm, Wilmette Junior High School Library Media Center, or February 24, 9:15 am – 10:45 am, Mikaelian Education Center.