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Internet failure interrupts ‘Zombie PARCC’ at some Chicago schools

PARCC tests, which most students took online, are supposed to measure critical thinking and problem solving. Nicholas Garcia

On a major day for annual standardized testing, an internet outage forced several Chicago schools to suspend administration of the state test that parents have nicknamed the “Zombie PARCC.”

A spokeswoman for the district said Tuesday’s outage affected 125 schools and began in the morning when AT&T, the district’s service provider, accidentally cut through a fiber optic cable.

It was not immediately clear how many students at that time were taking the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, which the state issued as a successor for the standardized PARCC tests after complaints from schools and parents. The new assessment encompasses much of the original PARCC, which many had expected to die. Thus the reworked test has been dubbed the “Zombie PARCC.”

Only students in fifth through eighth grades take the test online, and 88 percent of Chicago students had already completed the test this year, according to the spokeswoman. Schools that were affected will have to reschedule assessments either later in the week or later in the month since Chicago campuses are closed on Wednesday for report card pick-up and all next week for spring break.

Tuesday’s internet glitch did not affect Chicago high school students who were taking the SAT college entrance exam, which is administered by paper and pencil. But the outage cut service to other users besides schools, according to the district

Federal law requires states to administer an annual test, and 95 percent of students must participate or risk losing funding. High opt-out percentages can also impact individual schools by affecting their proficiency scores, which, in turn, factor into state ratings.

In response to the outage, the state will extend the compliance window to April 26.

PARCC was developed by a consortium of states and used to gauge children’s achievement. But many school administrators and families complained about the length of the testing — 4½ hours each for math and English — and what it measured. So the state decided to modify it.

Along the way, Illinois got into a skirmish over the contract with its PARCC vendor. The state ultimately issued a renamed test with shorter testing times.

Thousands of parents threatened this spring to opt out, and at least one parents’ group developed an opt-out toolkit.

Chicago Public Schools students take multiple assessments. Chicago uses a test known as the NWEA/MAP to gauge student achievement and determine ratings for its K-8 schools. Illinois, however, uses the IAR to assess school performance, and scores factor into whether a school lands on a list of low performers that triggers some state interventions.

Illinois’ new state school superintendent, Carmen Ayala, has said that she wants to re-evaluate the way the state assesses students and schools. She has asked for $3 million in her budget to study and streamline standardized testing.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that participation rate goals are set by the federal government and to clarify the timeline of the rollout for the Illinois Assessment of Readiness.

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