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Illinois' Early PARCC Results: Fewer Than 40 Percent Meet Expectations

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz

Illinois released preliminary results Wednesday of its PARCC tests, and they showed that fewer than 4 in 10 of its students met or exceeded grade-level or course expectations.

Proficiency rates hovered at about one-third for English/language arts, and were a bit lower in math, ranging from 17 percent proficiency on the high school math exam to 36 percent in 3rd grade math.

The release was only the second from a state that gave the PARCC tests. Earlier this week, Ohio released results. Neither set of scores is final, because they don't include results from paper-and-pencil versions of the test, and not all groups of students are included yet. For instance, in Illinois, those who took the test in Braille or American Sign Language aren't yet included. As a result, some changes are anticipated when final results are released.

But the glimpse of student performance in Illinois confirms what many policymakers had been warning about: Proficiency rates are lower than what states have seen on their previous tests. (Ohio categorized performance a bit differently, and got much better "proficient and above" numbers. My colleague Andrew Ujifusa explains it all for you on State EdWatch.)

At a state board of education meeting Wednesday, where Illinois board members approved the cut scores that the PARCC states had set for each of the five levels of its test, State Superintendent Tony Smith braced the board for a less-comfortable set of results than the ones they've been used to.

"The percentages have been comforting in some ways: 'Oh good, we're at 85th.' Well, not necessarily," Smith said. "Does that mean you're really ready for what's next?"

One board member said that the new results will "blow parents' minds." But Smith said he and his staff will be "up, down, and around the state" in the coming weeks to explain the test results to parents, educators, and lawmakers.

Angela Chamness, the state's assessment director, walked board members through the process by which the PARCC states set their cut scores, which were released last week. She said that the standard-setting process, which included teachers from Illinois, is one marked by extensive conversation and then, ultimately, a judgment. She said that after two rounds of discussion, panelists who set the cut scores reviewed the distributions of scores on other tests to give them context for their own recommendations. Then they made adjustments—a common part of the standard-setting process. 

"As you might imagine, there were some changes between round two and round three," she said. "Some changes were subtle, but you might be surprised to hear that sometimes the changes were in favor of setting a more difficult standard."


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