Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 administrators are having to start from scratch in their attempts to get a sense of students’ year-to-year academic progress and college readiness now that the SAT has replaced PARCC as the only test mandated by the state. Illinois elementary students still have to take the PARCC exam.

Nonetheless, high school administrators say, the SAT is a much better measuring stick than PARCC. They also believe that students won’t have too much trouble transitioning to the new college readiness exam. 

“The removal of PARCC as a state-mandated test means that the hours devoted to administering the test can be given back to instruction,” said Amy Hill, the district’s director of assessment and research, in an Aug. 17 memo. 

“It also provides an opportunity to build a new ‘ladder’ of assessments from freshman through junior year that will help us more easily to gauge student progress from one year to the next,” Hill wrote.

But during an update on the district’s transition to the new state-mandated exam at an Aug. 17 board meeting, Hill also conceded that “it’s going to take some years … to rebuild the ladder.” 

“It doesn’t mean that we won’t have baselines beginning this year,” she said, “but, in terms of being able to say, ‘Here’s what we can tell you about the test score growth of our incoming freshman by the time they take the 8th grade (assessment) to the time they take their ACT’ … we’re sort of starting over where that’s concerned.”

Hill said she hopes the state “sticks with one company’s assessment for a little while” so that ladder of assessment can be rebuilt, before noting that the district has built up a familiarity with the test already.

She said that anywhere from a quarter to a third of any graduating class at OPRF decides to take the SAT exam. And earlier this year, district leaders decided to switch from ACT products to SAT products for non-mandated, school-wide testing, which is designed to help administrators gauge students’ year-to-year academic progress. 

“At the time we made the decision, we expected that the PARCC test would still be required of all freshman English students and all students enrolled in Algebra 211,” Hill said. 

She said that the ACT-based series of assessments had been “disrupted” for the past two years of PARCC’s implementation and by ACT’s decision to phase out some of its testing products. 

Under the new, SAT-based series of assessments, Hill said, freshmen and sophomores will take the PSAT exam — the preliminary SAT which mirrors the state-mandated SAT that juniors will take. This school year, those assessments will be administered at no charge to students on Tuesday, April 5, 2017. Makeup exams are scheduled for April 25. 

The high school will administer an optional PSAT to all interested sophomores and juniors on Oct 15, which will cost $20 for all students except those who receive free or reduced-price lunches. Those students can take the optional exam at no cost. 

“Having done a comparison of the two tests (the SAT and PSAT), we frankly believe that the content is similar enough that it’s not going to be a major change for most of our families,” Hill said, adding that lots of parents have expressed an interest in their students taking the PSAT. 

Hill said the district has started communicating with parents about the transition to SAT through various means, such as an FAQ that’s been posted to the district’s website. Students can start preparing for the new test through a free app by the College Board and Khan Academy that can be downloaded to smartphones and tablets.

At the Aug. 17 meeting, board member Jackie Moore suggested that the district formalize a way “of knowing who needs assistance with test prep as opposed to those who come forward and request it.” That way, she said, the district can identify all students who need assistance and not just the ones who know about and/or seek out help.

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