A controversial new state exam has gotten off to a mostly trouble-free start at area schools this week. The new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, commonly known as PARCC, is giving a test that all third- through eighth-graders in public schools in Illinois have to take. 

One grade of public high school students will also take the test. The PARCC exam, which covers English/language arts and math, is based on the new Common Core State Standards and is expected to be a much more rigorous test than the Illinois Standards Achievement Test it is replacing. 

Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 had the most problems on Monday morning, with computer problems centered on S.E. Gross Middle School. A computer software update didn’t allow some Gross students to sign in to take the test. Local schools are giving the test online rather than having students take a paper-and-pencil test.

“Out of 120 students [at Gross] we had 35 to 40 who had some issue that prevented them from taking the test,” said District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski. 

At Brook Park Elementary School in LaGrange Park, things went more smoothly although some issues caused a delay of up to an hour.

“I’m pleased that at the elementary building we have been able to run through the exam for our third- and fifth-graders with somewhat minimal disruption,” Kuzniewski said.

PARCC testing got underway Monday without problems at three elementary schools in Riverside Elementary School District 96.

“Everything is going well,” said Brian Ganan, the district’s director of academic excellence. “Our tech department did a great job. … They were working during the weekend and late last week just because things kept popping up, but everything was ready to go.”

PARCC testing began last week at Komarek School in North Riverside and went pretty smoothly except for some problems getting kids logged on during the first day of the testing.

“We’ve been really lucky,” said District 94 Superintendent Neil Pellicci. “Part of that is that we have a new tech coordinator and she worked for weeks with test runs and talking to the state, talking to Pearson [the company that developed the exam], making sure everything was in place. We added access points for our wireless throughout the building where we needed to kind of boost the signal.”

Three District 95 parents and one Komarek parent informed school officials that they did not want their children to take the test. Some parents, as well as some educators, think the PARCC exam is just too much testing and a waste of time. 

But school administrators say if a student is in school on a day of PARCC testing, he or she must be offered the test. The student can refuse to take the take the test by sitting at the computer screen doing nothing, but the school cannot offer an alternative activity to those who refuse to take the test.

“Students have always had the option to not engage themselves with the test after it has been presented to them,” Kuzniewski said. “We are not allowed to offer kids an alternative to taking the test. The state board may consider that official misconduct.”

School districts face a possible loss of state funding if fewer than 95 percent of their students do not complete the PARCC Exam. The exam will be given in two stages: this month and a follow up test in late April or early May. There are no consequences to students for not taking the test.

The PARCC exam is a huge time commitment and is given over several days, between nine and 12 hours in total. That is just too much time devoted to standardized testing, some parents and educators say.

Kuzniewski is no fan of the PARCC Exam.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we have to have a measurement for accountability purpose,” Kuzniewski said. “I think the thing that I dislike most about it is that the purpose of us doing it is to comply with the requirements to receive [federal] money and that exam then is designed to meet federal requirements and is not designed to meet local needs.”

Kuzniewski and Pellicci both say that their districts, like most area school districts, already do Measures of Academic Progress, known as MAP, testing which is valuable for showing where students are at academically and what they need to work on. They say that the PARCC exam is not really needed and involves too much testing when combined with MAP.

“You take six weeks out of the year to do testing. That’s six weeks of instructional time that you’re losing for the students,” Pellicci said. “I really can’t see the value of that much testing. I think we should be allowed to do one or the other.”

Ganan is taking a wait and see approach to PARCC.

“Right now I think it’s worthwhile, but it kind of depends on how the data is returned to us and how we’re able to use the data to make instructional decisions,” said Ganan, who will take over as superintendent at Komarek School in July, after Pellicci retires. “I am curious to see, two years down the road, what we can do with the data and what kind of growth measures we get.”

Kuzniewski also decried the time spent getting ready for PARCC, especially on the technology side.

“We haven’t focused on the amount of time that we’ve lost on personnel, expending energy on things that are not directly related to instructing kids,” Kuzniewski said.