DECATUR – Some of the computers in the lab at South Shores School refused to cooperate when it came time to do the practice Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Career and College, or PARCC, tests this week.

Despite that, students had a chance to run through a practice version of the test so they'd be more comfortable when they take the real thing beginning Monday.

Instructional technology coach Debbie Roberts said she created a master schedule for testing at South Shores that will get the entire school through the test in three weeks.

“The reason we were also doing the practice test so we could get the bugs worked out with the computers before the testing begins,” Roberts said. “They are calling it an infrastructure test to make sure all the appropriate software is up to date and everything works. I turn computers in that didn't work, and IT comes out and works on them.”

Preparing for a standardized test is mostly a matter of close attention to the Common Core standards on which the testing is based, said fourth-grade teacher Sue Krause.

Decatur schools have been following Common Core standards for more than a year, and last year's Illinois Standards Achievement Test included questions based on Common Core, but this is the first year for the PARCC, which is all Common Core.

Students take the entire test online, and the program includes tools such as rulers, protractors and, for older students, calculators. Students are issued scratch paper that teachers must collect and shred after the test.

Decatur schools have been preparing for the PARCC for months, including participating in a test run last year that the PARCC initiated in several districts. Teachers and staff have also taken extensive training, and technology has been upgraded to prepare for the testing.

“One of the challenges we encountered was with scheduling all students within the testing window,” said Sarah McClusker, curriculum and assessment coordinator for Decatur schools. “Another issue that has emerged for teachers and students is that there are just three weeks between the performance-based testing and end-of-year testing.

"In addition, we know that the results of one test do not define the effectiveness of teachers or the school.”

The PARCC will take more time than the ISAT did, with three sessions for English language arts and two for math, but the Illinois State Board of Education has said the results will be more meaningful and that having a common multistate test will help educators and policymakers more effectively gauge student performance.

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Staff Writer

Education and family reporter for the Herald & Review.

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