Educators like to grade on a curve, and that’s how area educators are viewing the results of the new state-mandated PARCC exam that students took for the first time last spring. 

Rather than compare PARCC results to past results on the old Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), area educators focused on how their students performed compared to other students in the state.

With the exception of Lincoln Elementary School in southeast Brookfield, all local elementary and middle schools scored better than the state averages.

Aligned with Common Core

The PARCC test is a very different test than the ISAT, focusing more on higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills than the ISAT did. It is also aligned to the new Common Core state standards.

“ISAT was a test of mastery; PARCC we really view as an assessment that lets us know what our students still need to learn,” said Merryl Brownlow, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Riverside Elementary School District 96. “PARCC is supposed to be an assessment that lets us know what our students are ready for next, not what they’ve already mastered.”

As expected, PARCC scores were much lower than the ISAT scores in the past. In District 96 as a whole, 57 percent of students met or exceeded the state standards on the PARCC exam. In 2014, 77 percent of District 96 students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT. 

But the tests are so different, with the PARCC exam being much more rigorous and challenging, that comparisons to ISAT results are pointless, local educators say. And while the old ISAT results had just four categories, the PARCC results have five: exceeding state standards, meeting standards, approaching standards, partially meeting standards and not meeting standards. 

Compared to the rest of the state, District 96’s scores on the PARCC exam were well above average. Statewide only 33 percent of grade school students met or exceeded state standards. Ames School was the top performing school in District 96 with 61.4 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. 

The results at the other three District 96 elementary schools were clustered close together. At Blythe Park School, 57.8 percent of students met or exceeded state standards; at Central School, 57.4 percent of students did so; and at Hollywood School, 56 percent of students met the mark. 

At L. J. Hauser Junior High School, 55 percent of students met or exceeded state standards and are considered ready for the next level.

Brownlow, a self-described “data freak,” likes to compare District 96 results with the results of Mundelein’s Fremont Elementary District 79, which she says is the district in Illinois most similar to District 96 in terms of size, demographics and economic resources. In District 79, 58 percent of students met or exceeded state standards. 

Brownlow also looks at Brookfield-LaGrange District 102, which has fewer low-income students and is less racially diverse than District 96. In District 102, 60 percent of students met or exceeded state standards.

“Nobody knew what to expect other than that it was a more rigorous assessment than what we’ve had in the past,” Brownlow said. “We held our own.”

Most Brookfield schools above state average

Congress Park School, located in southwest Brookfield and part of District 102, had lower scores than District 102 as a whole, with 49 percent of Congress Park students meeting or exceeding state standards. 

Congress Park’s student population is the most diverse in the district and 41.8 percent of students are classified as low-income compared to just 11.7 percent of students in District 102 as a whole.

In Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, 39 percent of students met or exceeded state standards — 40.7 percent at Brook Park Elementary School and 36.7 percent of students at S.E. Gross Middle School.  

“I’m not surprised that we’re above the state average,” said District 95 superintendent Mark Kuzniewski. “I’m not surprised that the vast majority of our students did well even given that the test was based in new standards, higher-level questioning. I look at it in relation to state.”

Kuzniewski said that he doesn’t get hung up on the absolute numbers and is not especially concerned that, according to PARCC, fewer than half of District 95 students are meeting state standards.

“The same data points are telling us the same thing whether the numbers are 39 percent or 89 percent,” Kuzniewski said. 

Kuzniewski doesn’t believe that the PARCC test is very useful assessment.

“Knowing truly what a student can do and knows and can display is probably not accurately represented by a PARCC score,” Kuzniewski said.

At Komarek School in North Riverside, 40 percent of students met or exceeded state standards, seven point above the state average.

“That will be the baseline,” said District 94 Superintendent Brian Ganan. “Now we have to make sure we’re improving.”

Local educators say that the true value of the PARCC exam is that it establishes a baseline upon which future comparisons can be made, although they point out that the test is already being changed for this school year, which will hinder direct comparisons.

“What I want is some consistency,” Ganan said. “In order to really use data for instructional purposes and for continuous improvement, we need to have a consistent assessment system for some time.”

At Lincoln School, which is part of Lyons District 103, where 72.9 percent of students are classified as coming from low-income families, just 17 percent of students met or exceeded state standards. 

Soon schools send home the scores of individual students along with letters about the results.