By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It’s test week in Illinois, but students shouldn’t worry much. The test doesn’t count, and parents and teachers will never see the results.
TAKING THE TEST: Illinois kids are guinea pigs for Common Core.
Nearly 680 school districts, 1,900 schools, and 125,000 students across Illinois will take the PARCC practice exam, the first test for Common Core.
It’s sort of a test for a test.
“Feedback from Illinois schools will make this a more accurate and meaningful assessment system that will give families and educators information they can put to use,” Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch said in a statement announcing the test.
PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — is the Common Core test for 16 states, including Illinois and the District of Columbia. Other states will take the SBAC — Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — exam.
Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia opted out of the Common Core State Standards. Minnesota adopted the English standards, but not the math.
The exams, one in March and the other in May, are expected to expose weaknesses, of which there are many.
“There isn’t a textbook written that has Common Core in it,” McLean County Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus told Illinois Watchdog. “Common Core is that new. It takes 18 to 24 months to produce a text book.”
Most won’t even be taking the PARCC test on the Common Core Standards properly.
“It is designed to be an online test, not just pencil and paper,” ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said “(There is) more writing, really reflecting what Common Core demands in the process.”
But Fergus figures just 50 percent of Illinois’ schools can handle an online test. The others will take an exam designed to be a real-time digital test, but with a pencil and paper.
“What we really need is three years of pencil and paper before we got to online,” said Niehaus.
He said ISBE is generous in its testing estimates. “There are 25 percent of schools in the state of Illinois capable of doing it online.”
Unit 5 has enough computers and sufficient broadband capability to support online testing.
In addition to being slower, the pencil and paper tests are also more expensive.
ISBE numbers show the online PARCC test for Common Core costs $29.50 per student; the pencil and paper test, $33 per student.
Every Illinois student grades three through 11 will have to take the PARCC test next year.
Critics say if the state cannot pay for the test and the new computers and Internet, local schools will ask for tax increases.
Joy Pullman, a Common Core expert and editor for School Reform News and the Heartland Institute, said those looming tax hikes are where local problems with Common Core become national worries about centralized control.
“School districts around the country are basically having their ability to do their jobs … they can’t do it anymore because there is somebody else coming in and saying, ‘We’re in charge, now. Forget who elected you to make decisions about tax dollars, we’ll make those decisions on your behalf’,” Pullman said.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.