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MHS prepares for massive overhaul of school testing

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 21st, 2014

MENDOTA – A totally new type of student assessment called PARCC is scheduled to begin next year in Illinois schools. While that may sound like plenty of time for school districts to prepare, Mendota High School Superintendent Jeff Prusator is not so sure.

Reporting at the Jan. 20 board of education meeting, Prusator said he and MHS Principal Denise Aughenbaugh recently attended one of the first workshops offered by the Illinois State Board of Education on the new assessment. “There are a lot of details that need to be worked out with this,” he told the board.

For example, the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) will be administered completely online and will be taken by all freshmen, sophomores and juniors. In contrast, the PSAE was a test given only to juniors using paper and pencil. Prusator said MHS has four computer labs but with the number of tests to be given as well as the larger number of students taking the tests, logistics is a concern.

“When the freshmen are testing in the computer lab, that’s Mr. LeRette’s classroom. Where do we put his class for the rest of the day? It really disrupts everything,” he pointed out. “And what if your technology goes down and you’re halfway through the test? What then?”

Another big change with the PARCC assessment will be the way answers are structured. In the past, students worked out a problem and marked the correct answer. With the new test, the problems will be much more complex and will be answered in three stages. Prusator said students will first come up with an answer, then support their answer and finally, come back with more evidence. “On the ACT, it [the answer] was either right or wrong,” he said. “Now, if they miss the first part because of a math error but they have some justification why they answered the way they did, they can get partial credit. We’re not quite sure how that is going to work.”

The biggest concern expressed by Prusator, however, was the effect of so much testing on students. He said there will be two testing windows during which schools can schedule tests next year. The first starts in March and goes to the first week of April and the second will be sometime in April and run through May 22. After that, it will be time for final exams.

“The concern I have from a high school level is how much can we test students before we totally flip them out,” Prusator emphasized. “You test for three days, then a month later more tests, then a week after that final exams. At some point, I think we’re overextending what we’re asking kids to do.”

In the meantime, Prusator said they have already been working with students to familiarize them with the types of questions that will be on the new tests as well as the evidence they will have to show to support their answers. “It will be a significant change in how kids think and how they take assessments,” he said. “The state’s telling us this is the answer. We’re not sure how we’re going to work out the details but we have until next March to figure it all out.”

For the complete article see the 01-22-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-22-2014 paper.

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