Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PARCC - ISBE Superintendent's Message with Comments

I wanted to share this email from Dr. Tony Smith, IL State Superintendent, which was sent on Friday, September 11, 2015.  I highlighted some important points, and I hope we all can appreciate that these sentiments are coming directly from Dr. Smith.  I also provided a few [editorial comments] to provide insight into my sentiments about the content of this email.  

I am very proud to work with such a talented group of educators who are focused on improving the quality of learning and helping each student strive for his or her personal greatness.

Dear Colleagues:

On Wednesday, September 16, the Illinois State Board of Education will release the initial, and still incomplete, statewide results from the PARCC test. I want you to get as much information as we can share as soon as possible.  We will continue to update and publish the data as we receive it.  As you are aware, this is the first year you are receiving PARCC results.  It is our collective challenge to explain to principals, teachers, parents, and community members what these scores mean for their schools, their classrooms, and their children. I want to offer a few thoughts to help frame these discussions.

First of all, while the numbers are not final, we know that the percent of students who demonstrate proficiency are likely lower than the percentage of students who were proficient on the previous test. Please let everyone in your communities know that we fully expect results to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with the higher standards. These initial results are simply a new baseline from which we can move forward. I do not want anyone to use these results to shame teachers or schools.  We need to celebrate the good work our teachers and schools are doing to teach the new content our children must have for success in the future.

Second, please help parents understand that the PARCC test is not an “additional” test but that it replaces an existing test with one that is better aligned to the new standards. As you know, Illinois is deeply committed to minimizing testing and reducing test prep that consumes precious learning time. With aligned assessments, curricula and standards, the best preparation for testing is good teaching and the need for multiple tests and test prep is dramatically reduced or entirely eliminated. [I want to emphasize one point - We, as a district and community, will not define the success of a student, teacher, or school on a single test.  We will also not waste valuable learning time on "test-prep." -DDO]

Third, I encourage you to help parents understand that the primary purpose of testing is to help parents and teachers support their children’s learning. Ideally individual student results would be available at the start of the school year so that teachers, parents, and students could use them to inform instruction. This year, we expect individual student results later in the fall.  In subsequent years we expect to have them much sooner. Either way, please help parents understand the primary purpose of this assessment is to help their children. [Dr. Smith is alternating between "testing" and "assessment" in this paragraph.  When discussing assessments (with each other and with parents), I believe it is important to differentiate between "formative" and "summative" assessments. Formative assessments, like the ones teachers use on a regular basis, are much better at informing instruction.  Until we see the reports and scores generated by PARCC, we will not be able to evaluate how well PARCC helps "inform instruction." -DDO]

Finally, please let your principals and teachers know that these results are only one of many factors that inform our accountability system. We will never use test scores in isolation to drive school interventions or personnel decisions. We all understand that no test can ever fully capture the inspiring skills and abilities of a great teacher or the extraordinary benefits and positive impact of a great school. Tests are simply one measure to help track our progress.  Along with other indicators, tests help give us a sense of where and how we are succeeding and where and how we must improve.

In the four months I’ve been in this role, I have had the pleasure of meeting many outstanding educators and students all across Illinois and I can say with absolute confidence that we have the talent, skills, and commitment to meet our highest aspirations. Thanks for all your hard work on behalf of our children. Thanks for doing society’s most important work. Thanks, above all, for caring.


Tony Smith, Ph.D.
State Superintendent of Education

[Very well said Dr. Smith - DDO]