Feds: IL broke the law on PARCC test last year

The decision by the Illinois State Board of Education to no longer administer the Partnership for the Achievement of Readiness for College and Careers standardized test to high school students came after the federal government raised concerns, the Associated Press reports.

Welcome to Illinois, the land of 800-plus independent school districts

US Department of Education official Ann Whalen said in a letter to the Illinois State Board of Education that high school students were “being held to different academic content and achievement standards in reading and language arts, and mathematics … based solely on their zip code.” She also said the noncompliance “afforded inconsistent information to parents and the public about student achievement among districts in Illinois.”

The department placed Illinois in “high-risk status” in April based on what it claims is noncompliance with federal testing requirements. ISBE has until August 31 to respond to the issue, but the state’s top educator, Superintendent of Schools Tony Smith, said in an April 29 letter to the department that Illinois had, in fact, “complied with both the letter and spirit” of the No Child Left Behind federal testing law.

Megan Griffin, a spokeswoman for ISBE, said the agency has not yet responded to federal concerns.

High school PARCC tests

  • Algebra 1
  • Geometry
  • Algebra 2
  • Ninth-grade English
  • 10th-grade English
  • 11th-grade English
Federal law requires a school to administer at least one math test and at least one English test for every student enrolled in high school. Illinois chose the PARCC tests, listed above, to fulfill this federal requirement, beginning in 2014 and continuing through the spring of 2016.

Although the English tests offered by PARCC are attached to a grade level in high school, as both math and English tests are in grades three through eight, the math tests are clearly labeled as end-of-course exams. Guidelines from PARCC say the tests are to be administered after a certain percentage of instruction days for the year have been completed in the classes associated with the tests.

However, since all school districts in Illinois are independent government units, the state left it up to each district to decide which test to give which students, as long as each student took at least one math and one English test in high school. As a result, some districts gave students the algebra 1 test and used that for federal accountability purposes, and other districts used the geometry test for accountability purposes for some students. In other words, the state could not guarantee that there was an “algebra 1” score for every student, just that there was a “math” score for every one of them.

But even with that, some students were never on track to take any math test or any English test—again, because each district is independent. Some students don’t enroll in algebra 1, algebra 2, or geometry, for example, at any point during high school. This group of kids includes those in special education who never make it to algebra, some English language learners who never take a standard English class that would be attached to a PARCC test, and gifted students, who are taking pre-calculus by the time they enter high school. The eighth-grade tests they took don’t count toward the high school federal accountability requirement.

The situation is complex, mainly because of the diversity of kids and the diversity of graduation requirements in the state’s 800-plus independent school districts.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.