Preliminary results of a new standardized test taken by Illinois students – PARCC – were recently released. The numbers are sobering.
In math, only 17 percent of high school students met state expectations – none exceeded. In English Language and Literacy, only 36 percent elementary school students, on average, met or exceeded state standards.
Compared to results from the ISAT and PSAE last year, these results can seem disappointing. But, the standards on those tests were intentionally set low to pacify parents and avoid federal penalties for chronically low-performance.
The PARCC exam is the first honest look at how well the state’s schools are performing.
The exam and the standards closely associated with it – Common Core – haven’t been without controversy. Originally the idea of the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core aimed to correct the major policy loophole of the No Child Left Behind Act – a state’s ability to set its own standards and report results according to them.
It was only after the Obama Administration developed its Race to the Top grant program to incentivize states to adopt the standards, that opposition – from the both the right and the left – starting building.
Still, until parents can exercise true choice, the standards are a step in the right direction. Having benchmarks set for math, English language, and literacy for each grade level is policy that provides increased accountability to taxpayers. Real accountability will ultimately come when parents are allowed to exit a dissatisfying school for a higher performing one. Until that day when competition creates natural accountability to parents, the PARCC standards provide a healthy means for evaluating performance. They allow apples-to-apples comparisons to be made between schools, districts, and states. More importantly, it sets a reliable standard from which to judge other educational interventions against, like Course Access or a high-quality teacher transfer and retention bonus program.
One Chance Illinois supports groups like Advance Illinois and Stand for Children for advocating for both PARCC as well as school choice, but we also ask these groups to ensure that standards go beyond academics alone. States, like Illinois, need to do more work to incorporate other non-academic information into their official evaluation of schools. Parents want to know that the school their child is attending is safe (violent incident rates, arrests), has a strong culture of achievement, has high college enrollment and retention rates, and will be responsive to their questions or concerns.
Illinois’ initial PARCC test results are disappointing. Instead of wondering what went wrong, administrators, teachers, and parents should treat this a huge wake-up call and begin reforming the education system so history doesn’t repeat itself.