In this Jan. 22, 2014,  photo, Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Christopher Koch looks on during an education board hearing in Springfield. (Seth Perlman/AP)

In September, the school board of Evanston Township in Illinois held a meeting at which there was a disturbing discussion about the PARCC exam, the new Common Core test that will be administered to students for the first time this year there and in about a dozen states as well as the District of Columbia.

Peter Bavis, District 202’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, gave a detailed and sobering analysis of  the state’s poor planning for this school year’s first-ever administration of the PARCC, which he said raises enormous questions about the validity of the tests and the scores that are to come. He said in part:

“The PARCC test is neither valid nor reliable as a measure. And the reason for that is that it has never been given to a large population. So we’re paying to have a private testing company norm their instrument on the backs of Illinois students. That’s a big problem.”

Virtually nothing has changed since the meeting was held, and he has written memos since then further spelling out problems. In the video below and a Nov. 3 memo he sent to two superintendents, Bavis describes concerns he has regarding logistics of administering the exam, its educational soundness and effect on students, and the financial cost.

PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is one of two multi-state consortia that received a combined $360 million from the Obama administration to develop new tests aligned to the Common Core state standards. Bavis isn’t the only educator or administrator in Illinois to express concern with PARCC; in October, Barbara Byrd-Bennet, the chief executive of the Chicago Public School, said she wants to delay using the PARCC this year because she said there still remain “too many question about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents, and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment strategies.” The state, which is spending $57 million on the initiative this school year, isn’t going to give the waiver.

Bavis told the board members at the September meeting that districts will comply with the law and administer the PARCC as demanded but that the state did not give districts enough lead time to make testing schedules and set up accommodations for English Language Learners and students with special needs. He said he had attended a meeting about a week earlier at which state officials described approved accommodations for English Language Learners: “I was told that one of the ELL English Language Learner accommodations approved by the state and PARCC is to read the directions slowly, in English, and at a higher volume. That’s awful as an accommodation. … It’s insulting.”

He also said there is a serious concern  that “testing fatigue” will develop among some students who are going to have to take the ACT, the PARCC and Advanced Placement tests right in a row next spring. His memo says in part:

Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff. This is true in elementary, middle school and high school.

Watch the video. It’s not long.

ETHS D202 PARCC Assessment Discussion from Tim Furman on Vimeo.

And here’s his Nov. 3 memo:


To: Dr. Eric Witherspoon, District 202 Superintendent

Dr. Paul Goren, District 65 Superintendent

From: Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction

Date: November 3, 2014

RE: PARCC Implementation Concerns

There are several educational and logistical concerns regarding PARCC implementation. The purpose of this memo is to enumerate those concerns. Administrators will be available to discuss these concerns with the school boards at the joint board meeting.

Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff. This is true in elementary, middle school and high school.

PARCC testing trades off with instruction at a critical time of year. ETHS has allotted 5 days to PARCC testing within a compressed timeframe in the spring. We do not know if that will be sufficient to complete required testing. We plan on testing 738 students enrolled in 2 Algebra and 687 students enrolled in 3 English. Our 2 Algebra enrollment is comprised of students in grades 9-12. Our 3 English enrollment is comprised of juniors. This cross grade level testing means that all instruction during the 5 days of PARCC testing will be significantly disrupted and will impact nearly all of our classes.

PARCC testing occurs between the state sponsored ACT (March 3) and continues through May 22. PARCC requires 2 test administrations for math and English Language Arts. AT ETHS we chose to test the second administration of PARCC before AP exams. However, the state window for PARCC testing conflicts with AP exam administration. Last year ETHS had over 400 juniors take AP exams. Many of them took more than one exam. This means that a junior taking multiple AP classes stands to miss more than a week of instruction (5 days to PARCC, 1 day to ACT) in addition to their AP testing dates. Testing fatigue and student wellbeing are major concerns for our juniors. Compressing ACT, PARCC, and AP within a 44 school day window has the potential to result in lower test scores on ACT and AP exams. If ACT counts for college admission, and AP counts for college placement/credit, then what is the value of PARCC beyond 5 days of additional testing in the spring?

As a result of PARCC testing requirements, ISBE has moved the statewide ACT a month and a half earlier to March 3. Early administration of the ACT results in lower scores for our students. Lower test scores have the potential to negatively impact college admissions for some of our students. Despite claims made by PARCC, PARCC is not being used for college admissions. Unlike the ACT and SAT, PARCC is not a national standardized test. In fact, only 11 states are administering PARCC. This is down from the initial commitment of 23 states. The advantage of ACT is that potentially college-bound students must take it seriously. For PARCC to command similar respect from test-takers, it must earn the respect of colleges to the extent that they will use it in place of an ACT or SAT. Colleges cannot do that without first validating the tests. This will take years. The same holds true for the “talk” about having PARCC used for placement.

There are several logistical concerns regarding rollout from ISBE. For example, information regarding PARCC testing has not been provided in a timely manner. Each spring schools are required by ISBE to submit their school calendars for approval. High schools did not know what courses were being tested until this summer. This is disruptive to planning the school year and planning instruction. It takes about a year lead time to thoughtfully plan for standardized testing. ISBE has not issued guidelines on attendance during ACT or PARCC testing. However, ISBE is clear about not allowing students or districts to opt out of testing (APPENDIX).

ETHS’ top students will not test in math. ETHS has a number of 9th graders enrolled in math course work beyond 2 Algebra. Since so many of our high achieving math students have been eliminated from PARCC assessments we will not be able to make reliable school-to-school comparisons. We have been told that scores will be “banked.” This means that the scores for students who take algebra, geometry, and 2 Algebra in middle school will belong to ETHS. In contrast, these students took the PSAE ACT as juniors in the past.

High schools do not know what PARCC tests will be administered in future years. We know that PARCC has developed tests for 2 English Language Arts, Geometry, 1 English Language Arts, and 1 Algebra. PARCC is not being thought of as a means to demonstrate student growth if there is no intention to measure students longitudinally in high school. In fact, it appears that we are going in the opposite direction by starting with 3 English Language Arts and 2 Algebra.

There are hidden costs associated with PARCC. ISBE will spend $57 million on testing this year. This price tag does not include technology costs associated with testing (computers, headphones and other infrastructure requirements). These test administrative costs are passed on to districts.

Finally, there is the matter of trust. When PARCC officials spoke to the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) they stated that high schools were on board with PARCC testing. This is simply untrue. At that meeting IBHE was also told that state funding for ACT would cease in 2017. Clearly there is a lack of transparency in this process.

We have been told that the state is bound by federal regulations. But this does not explain how other states were able to opt out of PARCC. This issue deserves more than a bureaucratic shrug of the shoulders.

It is helpful to look at the impact PARCC testing will have on a student. Let’s take Angie, an African American female student as an example. She is taking 2 Algebra, English Language and Comp AP, and US History AP. She will take the ACT plus writing on March 3, PARCC testing in 2 Algebra and 3 English Language Arts (PBA and EOY), AP testing in English Language and Comp and AP US History.


ACT Plus Writing (3 hours 25 minutes)

PARCC PBA and EOY in 2 Algebra and 3 English Language Arts (15 hours 45 minutes)

AP Language and Composition (3 hours 15 minutes)

AP US History (3 hours 15 minutes)

TOTAL TIME testing: 25 hours 40 minutes.

Sixty-one percent of the time Angie will spend testing does not count for college admission, credit or placement. It gets worse; Angie will lose five days of instruction between the ACT and AP exams. There is also the issue of testing fatigue. Many of our juniors find themselves in the same situation as Angie.

There is also the matter of cut scores. Last year ISBE stated that “Our high school test, the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), is aligned with the ACT and does provide a good indicator of college and career readiness.” Now we are being told that it is insufficient. We do know that ISBE intends to crosswalk PARCC to ACT because ACT is the gold standard. To be clear ISBE wants to replace a proven measure of college and career readiness with a new more expensive test that will not be used for college admission or placement anytime in the near future (5-7 years). In the interim students will be required by ISBE to sit for a series of PARCC tests that trades loff with instructional time at a critical point the school year.