Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education released preliminary results of Illinois students’ performance on the new PARCC exam. The results don’t paint a pretty picture. As almost everyone expected, students scored worse on the PARCC exam than they had performed on the previous state exam, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

District, school and individual level results won’t be released until October or November, but the preliminary statewide results released last week only include scores from students who took the test online, about 75 percent of the total.

In English and language arts, only 38 percent of eighth-graders statewide met or exceeded expectations on the PARCC exam. In math, only 31 percent of eighth-graders statewide met or exceeded expectations. 

In other grade levels the state wide results were often worse. Only 17 percent of high school students who took the PARCC online met expectations, and none apparently exceeded expectations.

However, new state school Superintendent Tony Smith warned against comparing the scores on the PARCC exam to previous scores on the ISAT. 

“We view this assessment as a new starting point for our conversations about progress and what our kids need to be ready for the next level and what’s coming in the future,” said Smith in a conference call with reporters. “I don’t think comparisons to past or other tests is a wise use of time.”

The PARCC exam is based on the new Common Core learning standards that schools are implementing and aims to test higher-order thinking skills than the ISAT. The PARCC exam, which was taken last spring by all public school students in third through eighth grades and one class year of high school students, is considered to be a much more difficult and rigorous test than the ISAT.

Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski is critical of the way the state implemented the PARCC exam. Like Smith, he noted that the PARCC is a new test.

 “There is nothing that these scores are benchmarked or normed to,” Kuzniewski said. “To use these scores to measure students in any way would be reckless. You certainly can’t compare it to past ISAT scores, because it’s not the same test; it’s not scored in the same way.”

Kuzniewski noted that the so-called cut scores or the scores required to be at any specific level of achievement were not even set until last week in Illinois. He also said that in many districts the PARCC exam is evaluating students on a curriculum that has not yet been fully implemented. 

Kuzniewski said that he doesn’t believe that the PARCC results will be useful to educators. He and other educators complain that the test results are still not available, even though students took the test last spring.

 “There is just a whole host of problems with the way the PARCC has been administered that don’t really make the results valid or reliable, in my opinion, to use for any type of assessing of a student’s academic ability,” Kuzniewski said.

Kuzniewski said that puts more weight on tests that measure student growth such as the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP exam.

“I would have preferred them to spend considerable amount of time vetting out an assessment that would truly give districts data that was valid and reliable to help measure student growth, not student attainment, but student growth,” Kuzniewski said. “And they didn’t do that.”

Patrick Patt, the co-interim superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96, said he is not a big fan of high-stakes testing or of using test results to rank schools or districts.

“The only testing that I really think is valuable is diagnostic testing,” Patt said.