Bowing to pressure from high school administrators from across the state, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has ditched the PARCC exam after only two years and announced that the only state-mandated exam Illinois public high school students will have to take is the SAT college entrance exam.

High school administrators have derided the PARCC exam since it was first offered on a pilot basis three years ago, saying that it was irrelevant to high school students. Their association has lobbied the state to get rid of the PARCC exam on the high school level.

Local high school administrators were glad that the state finally got the message.

“This has been a three-year struggle for us as superintendents and curriculum folks and we’ve continued to communicate the same message over and over,” said Tim Kilrea, the superintendent of Lyons Township High School District 204.

Riverside-Brookfield High School Principal Kristin Smetana was also pleased that the state is now mandating only a college entrance exam.

“We are very excited to hear that the state has eliminated the PARCC test so that our students and teachers can regain hours of valuable classroom instruction time,” said Smetana. “It is important to utilize a college admissions test, such as the SAT, for accountability at the high school level, because students will give their best effort when taking the test, providing a more accurate picture of their academic performance.”

Administrators say that students did not take the PARCC exam seriously, because the results of the test had no impact on their grades or college admission prospects. Administrators also didn’t like having their schools being judged based on a test that some students just blew off. 

Students take college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT much more seriously, because the results have an impact on where they can go to college.

The state didn’t pay for students to take a college admissions test in 2016. But next year, the state will pay for the mandated SAT exam for all public high school juniors as part of a three-year agreement with the College Board, which produces the SAT. 

Prior to 2016, the ACT was required and paid for by the state for about 15 years.

The PARCC exam was designed to be aligned to new Common Core Standards and has been given to public school students throughout Illinois for the last two years. 

Although the high school version of the PARCC exam is being dropped in Illinois, third- through eighth- graders will continue to be required to take the controversial test. 

PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career and is a national consortium.

High schools were especially upset that this year that the state did not pay for a college entrance exam but required high schools to administer the PARCC exam.

The Chicago Tribune reported recently that the decision by the state to get rid of the PARCC exam in high schools came shortly after the U.S. Department of Education threatened to withhold federal funds because of the way the state of Illinois administered the PARCC exam. 

The Tribune reported that the U.S. Department of Education placed Illinois in a “high risk status,” because federal officials apparently were concerned that the state did administer the PARCC exam in a uniform way in high schools.

High schools were able to choose which grades to assess with the PARCC exam. RBHS chose to test mostly sophomores while Lyons Township High School chose to test mostly freshmen.

For more than a decade the state had required that all public high school juniors take the ACT exam when it was part of the now-abandoned Prairie State Achievement Exam. 

In 2016-17, juniors at RBHS and LTHS will take both the SAT and ACT. While the state will require and pay for the SAT, both schools will continue to offer and pay for their juniors to take the ACT, because this year’s juniors have taken earlier tests in the ACT series and are more familiar with the ACT than the SAT. 

“We feel that the consistency will hopefully help students perform better on the test that they will ultimately then use for college entrance,” Smetana said. “It will also help the school in monitoring students’ academic growth and progress.”

RBHS has committed to requiring and paying for the ACT for two more years while, LTHS has committed to paying for and offering the test this year and then will evaluate whether to do so for one more year. Fewer students in local schools have taken the SAT in recent years, because the ACT had become ubiquitous and free in Illinois.

It will cost about $50,000 to $60,000 for LTHS to offer a free ACT this year, Kilrea said. The cost to RBHS is expected to be about $16,000.

But PARCC will not be missed by high school administrators. 

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone sad to see it go at the high school level,” Smetana said.

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