District 117 superintendent not confident in new test rollout

By Jim McCabe on March 26 at 7:42am

Jacksonville School District’s head administrator says there are “major problems” with the implementation of a new state testing system.

About 125,000 Illinois public school students are taking practice exams this week to determine the effectiveness of the new Partnership State Achievement Exam. The PARCC test is supposed to replace the I-SAT and PSAE exams for third through eleventh graders next year.

The tests are being tested in total by about 18-hundred Illinois schools this spring. District 117 volunteered to be included, according to Superintendent Steve Ptacek. He says his staff are having problems with the test system itself, not the test questions.

“The mechanism on the computer, the ease of use, that was our first indication of problems with the PARCC. There has been complex discussion about how the students use rulers, or how they have them use shading. They’ve overcomplicated the process. That’s one of our major hurdles we’re having to overcome,” says Ptacek.

“Combined, we got a lot of incorrect test booklets for incorrect schools. It just has not been a good start form the state in introducing PARCC to the schools.”

The plan is to implement the test in all 860 districts next year, but Ptacek says there have been talks between the Illinois State Board of Education, the Large Unit District Association- which District 117 is a part of- and the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

Ptacek says the latter two organizations are asking the state to delay the implementation of the PARCC tests for a year to make sure it’s done correctly. He says officials are still waiting to hear whether the state will take that action.

Ptacek says he’s spoken with multiple superintendents in school districts taking the trial run of the test, and he says frustration has been “very common” among them.

Ptacek says in theory, he’s very optimistic about what the PARCC test is attempting to do.

“One of the problems we have at the high school level is that we only test the juniors one time, and that is an indication of how four years of education is performing. When this is fully accomplished, the PARCC test will be taken multiple times each year by all students. It’s going to give us significantly more valid data for us to cause school improvement then our current system,” says Ptacek.

“Due to the implementation aspect, I don’t know how confident I am; I have serious reservations about the state’s ability to implement this in a productive manner,” he continues.

The tests are tied to learning goals for the Common Core Standards.

Ptacek says PARCC has two types of assessments being tested in District 117, with different schools being assigned different tests. The performance-based assessments began on Monday and continue through April 11th. End-of-the-year assessments will take place May 5th through June 6th.

Ptacek says District 117 staff has done a “fantastic’ job administrating the test despite the hurdles.