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Downers Grove town hall to address standardized testing concerns

DOWNERS GROVE – Standardized testing will be the topic of discussion at an April 5 educational town hall meeting in Downers Grove.

The forum, hosted by state Rep. David Olsen, R-Downers Grove, state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, and representatives from the Illinois State Board of Education will be from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Lincoln Center, 935 Maple Ave.

The meeting will focus on the assessments used in Illinois public schools, including PARCC and SAT. Representatives from ISBE will present information about the assessments, and a Q&A session will follow, according to a news release.

The forum is necessary to help parents better understand the need for and purpose of standardized assessments, Olsen said.

“As I speak with people throughout the 81st District, I find that many have questions and concerns about the assessments used in our public school classrooms,” Olsen said in the release. “I am pleased to partner with Senator Curran and ISBE to provide information about PARCC, SAT and other assessments and offer residents an opportunity to deliver feedback and have their questions answered.”

PARCC testing, which is opposed by some parents in Downers Grove Grade School District 58, will be administered to students on various dates between April 3 and 20.

Parents who oppose the exam do so for a variety of reasons, said Kylie Spahn, a Downers Grove resident and vocal critic of the test.

They believe it is developmentally inappropriate, discriminates against students who perform at or below grade level, requires too much time to administer and is too costly. Additionally, they have raised concerns about the student data collected and how it might be used, Spahn said.

"For a fourth-grader, they will lose 12 hours of instructional time to testing," she said. "PARCC test times are longer than the MCAT or bar exam. It is not appropriate to expect a 9-year-old to test that much."

However, the majority of District 58 students take the test.

In 2017, 92 percent of students participated in PARCC testing, and 94 percent participated in 2016, said Megan Hewitt, community relations coordinator for District 58. The state mandates that at least 95 percent of students participate in PARCC, she said.

“This year, the ISBE announced that schools that do not reach 95 percent participation for three consecutive years will automatically be labeled an under-performing school regardless of actual achievement,” Hewitt said in an email.

That means District 58 schools that did not achieve 95 percent in 2016 and 2017 and also do not achieve 95 percent this year will be required to expend district resources to address their participation, she said.

Only 30 of 755 elementary/unit school districts in Illinois did not meet the 95 percent PARCC participation threshold in 2017, including District 58, Hewitt said.

District 58 respects the wishes of parents who choose to opt out of the PARCC exam, Hewitt said.

However, District 58 principals followed up with parents who chose to opt out to discuss the district's approach to PARCC, she said. Principals also shared how PARCC results can help the district determine if its curriculum meets students' needs.

"In the past, District 58 took a passive approach to the PARCC exam. This year, we want to make sure parents understand the importance of this test," Hewitt said.

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