One in 10 CPS students skipped the PARCC tests earlier this spring. But it's unclear how much that affected overall student test scores. Credit: Photo: Standardized test/Shutterstock

About one in 10 Chicago Public Schools students eligible to take Illinois’ new standardized test sat out the exam last spring, according to data the state released this week.

That’s about 19,000 students — twice as high as had been previously estimated using principals’ self-reported data. State officials say about 4,000 students were marked as refusing the test, while 15,000 were marked absent.

CPS students skipped the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers math and reading tests at a rate more than twice as high as students statewide and 10 times as high as occurred during testing in the 2013-14 school year.

This past year, a disproportionate number of the CPS students who skipped the test were more affluent — just 9 percent of low-income students sat it out. As a group, they also were disproportionately white — 18 percent of white students skipped the test, a rate nearly twice as high as Asian, Latino and African-American students.

It’s unclear how the missed tests impacted overall student scores. Elaine Allensworth, who directs the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, says if students miss a test at random, it’s less problematic for the integrity of the data than when there are “systematic differences.”

Usually when students miss a test it’s because they are absent or sick, and that can inflate a district’s average, she says. On the flip side, if high-achievers feel a test isn’t valid and decide not to take it, that can make an average lower.

Caution on drawing conclusions

Across CPS, the PARCC tests were given to more than 173,000 students in 3rd through 8th grades, and to high school students in various grades, depending on course enrollment. They are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, which are aimed at getting students ready for college and future jobs.

The test won’t be used for rating schools this year but will be a baseline for measuring academic growth in the future, CPS officials say.

As for this year’s results, less than a third of CPS students met or exceeded reading standards on the new, tougher test, and just over one-fifth met or exceeded math standards. In both cases the district fell well below the state average.

Last year, under the old standardized tests — which state officials have cautioned against comparing to the PARCC — at least half of elementary school students were considered proficient in reading and math, while more than a third of high school students were.

John Barker, who oversees accountability for CPS, says it’s too early to know what the PARCC results mean — though he adds: “We believe in using multiple data sources that tell us about performance. This is one more piece of information.”

Over the next several weeks, the district will have “internal conversations” and work with the state to examine the data, Barker says. CPS will conduct an equating study to see how PARCC results compare with results on the NWEA, another standardized test CPS uses.

Officials also will compare the scores of students who took the test on a computer with those of students who used the paper-and-pencil version — 3rd- and 5th-graders took the test with pencil and paper while older students took a computer-based test.

Allensworth of the Consortium says there are several reasons why this year’s PARCC results should be taken “with a grain of salt.”

For starters, it’s common to see dips in scores when new standardized tests are introduced, she says. With the op-out movement, she adds, students received “contradictory messages” about the importance of the PARCC.

“It makes a big difference if students take a test seriously,” Allensworth says.

It’s also unclear how PARCC will be used in the “real world,” as colleges have yet to accept it as a marker of achievement.

Student activism boosted opt-out rates

Meanwhile, the student activism that has helped fuel the opt-out movement is likely to continue.

Aislinn Diaz, a 15-year-old sophomore at Kelly High School in Brighton Park, says she’s not surprised that her school had one of the highest rates of students who sat out the exam — 79 percent in reading and 85 percent in math.

Earlier this year, Diaz spent about three weeks sharing opt-out information with her fellow students during lunch and in the hallways. She plans to do it again this spring.

“More people I hope this year will realize that this is an option,” she says.

Several schools with high rates of students skipping the test are known for student- and parent-led activism, for example, Lindblom, Roosevelt, Lane Tech and Northside, whose students also rallied to protest budget cuts and staff layoffs this fall.

Anthony Cappetta, who teaches math at Lindblom (and sits on Catalyst’s editorial advisory board), says that spirit likely contributed to Lindblom’s high rate of students skipping the test — 92 percent in reading and 89 percent in math. Just this week, hundreds of students also protested CPS CEO Forrest Claypool’s visit to the school, he said.

“I think there is this growing sense of students talking to each other, encouraging critical thinking,” he says. “That’s the type of environment we want to create for our students.”

Schools with high rates of students not tested

At 11 CPS schools, at least two-thirds of students weren’t tested in both subjects:

School Not tested in reading Not tested in math
Lindblom HS 92% 89%
Blaine ES 84% 84%
Northside College Prep HS 83% 91%
Sabin ES 81% 80%
Drummond ES 80% 79%
Kelly HS 79% 85%
Lane Tech HS 78% 79%
Roosevelt HS 78% 77%
Community Services West HS 73% 97%
South Shore International College Prep HS 70% 73%
Uplift Community HS 69% 69%

Selective-enrollment and magnet schools that had high opt-out rates tended to continue their record of high scores, too.

But Lindblom’s scores were almost certainly hurt by its high rate of students skipping the test. Just 37 percent of students met or exceeded reading standards, and 28 percent met or exceeded math standards. That put them a few percentage points above the district average. Usually, the school performs significantly higher than the district average.

Cappetta says that hasn’t been a “major concern in our building… The school administration really feels that good instruction is our main focus.” College-going and persistence rates are the “kind of data they are more concerned about.”

Stark gaps persist

Across the board, fewer CPS students reached proficiency levels in math than in reading. Third-graders had the highest math passing rate, while 4th- and 5th-graders had the best passing rates in reading.

Grade and subject Met or exceeded standards
3rd-grade reading 30%
3rd-grade math 26%
8th-grade reading 27%
8th-grade math 23%
HS reading 19%
HS math 12%

The data show that few schools excelled in both subject areas and that stark gaps persist between white students and students of color.

At 36 schools, at least half of students were proficient in both reading and math, but only five were open-enrollment schools without a selective-enrollment or magnet program. And the five exceptions serve significantly more white and affluent students than the district’s average. Three are located on the Far North Side.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are eight schools where less than 1 percent of students were proficient in math and reading. Nearly all are struggling high schools on the South and West sides with almost all black students.

Looking at how students did within PARCC’s five levels — which move up the ladder from “did not meet expectations” to “partially met” to “exceeded” — the racial disparities are even more noticeable.

For example, in math, white students met expectations at more than twice the rate of Latino students and nearly four times the rate of black students. Just 7 percent of white students did not meet expectations in math, compared with a quarter of black students and 17 percent of Latino students.

Allensworth says it’s not surprising that the same gaps evident elsewhere are showing up on the PARCC test. But that doesn’t mean that students who didn’t meet or exceed these standards won’t be successful in college, she adds.

“Test makers would have you believe that,” she says. “But there are many other factors.”

Photo: Standardized test/Shutterstock

Kalyn is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kalynbelsha.

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