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Column: First test of Dist. 202's Core readiness starts today

Lane Abrell | 3/9/2015, 10:07 a.m.
Regardless of whether residents like the new Common Core standards or not, we must be ready for them and the ...
Dr. Lane Abrell

Dr. Lane Abrell, superintendent of District 202, wrote this column:

District 202 has been on the "road to the Common Core" for nearly five years.

District 202 will start the process to see how far we have come down that road by administering the first-ever Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, starting March 9.

The PARCC will gauge how well our students are doing meeting the Common Core state learning standards. Most everyone knows that the Common Core standards - and now PARCC - have come under fire in recent years. Most of that criticism has been political in nature, based on media-driven misunderstanding and misinformation.

I am not going to debate those criticisms here. Nor will I comment on the flaws and challenges inherent in Common Core and PARCC that have made this process much harder than it should have been for our teachers, parents and students.

Rather, I will stress what is most important at this juncture: both the Common Core standards and the PARCC test are intended to help our students prepare for and succeed in the world in which they will live and work.

It is crucial to understand that assessment is a vital part of the teaching and learning process. Standardized assessment is just one form, though it is the one that gets the most public attention and scrutiny, both good and bad.

Teachers routinely assess their students both formally and informally to ensure that the students are actually learning and progressing. We know that standardized test results do not show all of the talents and skills of our students, though the media often wrongly portray them as if that is the case. Still, politics and public opinion aside, the Common Core standards and PARCC are now a part of our assessment program.

The Common Core state learning standards were created by state governors, education experts and business leaders - not the federal government - in part to fix a big problem with the No Child Left Behind law: namely, that individual states got to create their own learning standards. That meant that there were no consistent learning expectations, and no comparative results.

The Common Core standards are also deeper and more rigorous than the old learning standards. So, the Common Core standards are, in some ways, an improvement over what came before.

Likewise it is also important to know the Common Core standards and PARCC may be new, but learning standards and standardized testing are not.

The Common Core standards and PARCC replace the Illinois Learning Standards and the ISAT and Prairie State exam, which started in 1999. The Illinois Learning Standards/ISAT/PSAE replaced the Illinois Goals for Learning and the IGAP test, which was created in 1988.

We understand and share the frustration that our parents, students and staff feel with the Common Core and PARCC. However, we cannot let that frustration cloud our bigger purpose. It is our job to do our very best to help our students succeed in the classroom and in life. Right now, that success is defined, in part, to the Common Core standards and PARCC.

We may not like the new system, but common learning standards and standardized testing (whether they are called PARCC, Common Core or something else) are not going away any time soon. Therefore we must always be about serving our students and community to the best of our ability within the current system.

With that overarching goal always in mind, I thank our teachers and staff for their hard work over the last five years to implement the Common Core standards, create entirely new math and English Language Arts curriculums and to prepare our students for this important change.

I also wish great success to our students on the PARCC test this spring.

As long as we continue to work as a community and focus on what's really important, our students will always be the better for it.

Together, we will continue to prepare learners for the future.