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5 things you should know about the ‘Zombie’ PARCC

Illinois is rolling out a new state test for third- to eighth-grade students, but don’t expect much change. In fact the new state tests will have the same questions as the old tests — just fewer, and taking less time.

The state last year decided to drop the PARCC, a standardized test developed by a consortium of states and used to gauge children’s achievement, amid complaints from school administrators and families about what the tests measured and how long — 4½ hours each for math and English— they took.

But when the state board sought a firm to create a new test, its PARCC vendor contested the contract. Illinois has repackaged the PARCC for spring testing with a new name, a shorter testing time, and most of the same questions.

The resurrection and administration of a test that many expected to be dead has earned it the moniker “Zombie PARCC.”

Here’s what you need to know about the state’s new test:

It’s still the PARCC

“Same standards, same content, improved administration” is how the Illinois State Board of Education describes the new test. That means the state’s new standardized test is expected to resemble PARCC — which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers  — in content and format. Schools can also expect to get the results of the test more quickly.

Testing in most schools starts this month

The new assessment will be administered to all third- to eighth-grade students in the state sometime between March 11 and April 26, either on a computer or in paper form.

The exam will be significantly shorter. For most grades, both the math and English sections of the test will run three hours instead of the 4½  hours each section originally ran.

Scores only influence state ratings

The state uses PARCC (and also will use its new test, the Illinois Assessment of Readiness) to grade schools and to pinpoint where to improve learning for students. That has less impact in Chicago, which relies on an annual test called NWEA/MAP to make decisions about high school admissions and how it rates schools.

But the state assessment does factor into the school’s state report card, which determines whether struggling Chicago schools get state improvement funds. Most recently, Springfield sent $27.5 million in funds to 300 of Chicago’s schools rated lowest on the state report card.

Some parents want to opt out, but schools are warning them not to.

Thousands of students opted out of the PARCC in the first year it was introduced, part of a growing national movement against high-stakes standardized testing that can impact a school’s funding or a student’s graduation or grade promotion. Now, schools and districts around the state are using emails to parents and notices on their website to discourage opt-outs, saying that the new state test is mandatory — although the consequences of skipping the test are unclear.

But parent groups like Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education argue that parents can refuse the test, and are providing online toolkits with sample opt-out letters.

Federal law requires states to administer an annual test, and 95 percent of students must participate or a state risks losing funding. Opt-outs can impact schools, too  — schools with less than 95 percent participation can see their state rating slide. 

The ‘Zombie PARCC’ has been seen in other states

Illinois isn’t the only place where the term “Zombie PARCC” has caught on to describe troubled state efforts to end the PARCC test. In New Jersey, officials warned dropping the test could take years, although a judge struck down PARCC as a high school graduation requirement this year. And Colorado officially stopped administering PARCC in 2017 but still uses some of its test questions as it transitions to a new assessment.