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Sterling district relies on in-house assessments, accolades, not PARCC

Tad Everett
Tad Everett

STERLING – Amazing, the power of a preposition.

Sterling Public Schools Superintendent Tad Everett summed up nicely why the district takes more from homegrown education initiatives, rather than spending resources trying to glean data from the state-mandated exam, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam – better known as PARCC.

“We do assessments for learning, not of learning,” he said.

Sterling is a Race to the Top district, which means it receives federal grants to spur innovation and reform.

The district spent $100,000 over 4 years on training teachers in Common Core standards (which PARCC, effectively, assesses), teacher mentoring, and training its teachers on writing effective assessment and intervention plans.

That last one is the operative initiative, in the case of PARCC comparisons. Everett’s priority is daily intervention, rather than an annual autopsy.

“We have to get back to trusting teachers as the professionals and the experts,” Everett said. “This is what they do for a living. Our teachers diagnose cognitively how our students are doing, and they’re great at it.”

PARCC results were made public Oct. 31 this year, nearly 6 months after Sterling students took the test, and after being revealed in December last year.

“What did you do in those 6 months in between?” Everett said. “If they could get results back to us faster, that would make a difference.”

The Sterling district scored “in the middle of the pack,” in Everett’s words, with 25 students meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to a 34-percent clip around the state.

Seeing as how the Illinois State Board of Education decided during the summer to administer PARCC to only kids in the third through eighth grades, while assessing high-schoolers with the SAT, the more applicable numbers are as follows: About 21 percent of Challand Middle School students met or exceeded expectations, and 30 percent of Lincoln and Washington Elementary kids met that mark, all down, from 28, 32, and 32, respectively, the previous year.

The district received accolades from U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post in the past year, and posted its best graduation rate and ACT scores to date in the spring.

“We’ve had probably, result-wise, one of the better years we’ve ever had,” Everett said.

Furthering Everett’s skepticism with PARCC is the number of students, and states, choosing to opt out.

This past spring alone, 122 Sterling students, needing parental approval, opted out of the PARCC test.

“That brings validity to the fact that our community doesn’t value PARCC,” he said. 

“Parents don’t value it.”

Eight states fully participated in the spring – compared to 24 states and the District of Columbia – which were on board back in 2010.

Everett said that begged a question, which he said he’s posed to ISBE Superintendent Tony Smith:

“The next question is, ‘Is PARCC here to stay?’ And nobody will answer that. There are no answers. None whatsoever.”

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