No, Our Kids Aren't Dumber—Our Standards Are Just Higher

The results are in…sort of. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)  released the initial statewide results of the PARCC tests at its board meeting yesterday. This is the end of an era—one of dumbed down standards and meaningless assessments that sought to show kids were doing great in school. An era where there were strict accountability provisions for failing to meet standards, but no common measuring stick for what that meant. An era where states competed in a race-to-the-bottom of creating the easiest standards possible. And in a nation with a lot of bad standards, Illinois’s old ones were among the worst. The state-level PARCC scores are here. Very generally speaking, about a third of students are meeting or exceeding standards. It’s not far off from what we would expect since the national report card found similar results in 2013. (High school math is the lowest. Not surprising since just over half of our community college students need remediation before enrolling in credit-bearing courses.) These PARCC scores are a new baseline. We cannot and should not compare them to old standardized test scores because those were lower standards measured by a worse test that reported dishonest results—results that showed more kids were prepared for college or a career than there actually were. Props to ISBE for putting this out there right away. Some states are holding the data and polishing it and making it pretty before sharing it with the public. ISBE decided to just push it out there, even though it’s not final. There are some gaps—like this doesn’t include paper/pencil results yet, among other things. But ultimately, getting as much information into the hands of schools, teachers, parents and students as possible will help all of us familiarize ourselves with this new way of thinking. And all the better that we have that opportunity before we see the district-level data and student reports so we have a better grasp of what those mean when we see them later this fall. (Hopefully sooner rather than too much later, but it’s looking like it will be a couple months.) Yesterday, when these results were released, there was a lot of gloom-and-doom rhetoric—our kids are “failing,” Illinois test results “dismal,” etc. But, everyone needs to take a deep breath and look at this honestly. We raised academic standards to where they should be. Our kids didn’t get less smart. We’re using a new assessment that measures what it should. We’re done wasting time with meaningless fill-in-the-bubble tests. So, the results should not be a surprise, and they’re not cause for “the sky is falling” hopelessness. They show where Illinois students are now and what areas they need to work on. It’s a baseline to start from. The good news is that after years of low expectations that shortchanged our kids, we’ve finally set a course to get kids where they need to be. Now it’s up to us to make sure they get there.  
Jessica Handy is the government affairs director with Stand for Children Illinois. She works with parents, legislators and other education stakeholders to advocate for education policy that puts children first and helps close the achievement gap. An earlier version of this post appeared on STAND for Children Illinois’ blog as Our Kids Aren’t “Failing.”
Jessica grew up in Springfield, Illinois and continues to live and work in the capitol city with her teenage daughter. She earned her B.A. in Spanish and History at Millikin University, spending a semester in the Dominican Republic teaching English to middle school girls. Jessica completed the Illinois Legislative Scholars Internship Program as a research intern at the bipartisan Legislative ...

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