This spring, elementary school students across the state of Illinois took the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, which is an exam that is similar to the widely-panned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, or PARCC.

One of the biggest differences in the IAR is that it is shorter than the hours-long PARCC assessment, which was implemented in 2015. The state’s goal is to also have the results of the IAR out much faster making the assessment more useful for teachers.

But to me, it looks like the state has four years of assessment data that’s not a direct comparison to what the schools are doing right now. The new IAR exam is supposed to have results comparable to the PARCC so schools can accurately measure growth year-to-year.

But with how often tests change in the current academic culture, how far back can we even go when comparing data?

As a reporter, it’s a real treat when you can come across a complete dataset on anything at the state level. Examining local trends compared to statewide data makes for some good story fodder. But when it comes to assessment data, there hasn’t been a lot to go on in the past few years, due to the small sample size.

Now, I understand the need to update exam standards. Education is a constantly evolving creature that should never — for the sake of the students — get stuck in the mud.

But I really would like to know how our students right now compare to where we were 10 years ago, or 20, or 30. Or is that a question even worth asking?

Do all the changes in technology make it an apples to oranges comparison? The paper and pencil exams are being ousted for these new tests that are taken on a laptop or tablet. And the online versus paper test comparison has also led to some different trends in results.

Before PARCC, there was an exam for grade school students that was used for more than a decade. The Illinois Standards Achievement Exam served the state from 1999 to 2014. And the exam had more of a focus on if a school district was making adequate yearly progress in the No Child Left Behind era, while the PARCC exam focused on college and career readiness. So for the past twenty years, you have multiple exams measuring similar things, but not taking the same route.

On the high school level, Illinois has undergone testing changes in past years too. In 2016, the state switched from the ACT to the SAT. The ACT had been the state’s standardized test for 15 years prior to its retirement. It was coupled with the Prairie State Achievement Exam, an exam that was also pushed out upon the arrival of PARCC.

Both tests acted as a free college entrance exam for students looking to build their resume before applying to universities. But when the SAT did replace the ACT, there was added emphasis the SAT promoted “college and career readiness.”

And that’s not a bad shift in my opinion. As someone who was educated in the No Child Left Behind years, it felt like all the emphasis was on college, even if that was not the path for many students. It’s good to see careers in trades being included in today’s standards. But I am curious on where the next cycle of changes will bring us.

When college and career readiness becomes dated, what will be next for the state of Illinois? I’m predicting there will be another test, and if there is I can guarantee it will have an acronym for a name. Schools love acronyms.

Brett Herrmann can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SpringValley.

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NewsTribune Online Editor covering Spring Valley and Dalzell. Contact him at (815) 220-6933 or svreporter@newstrib.com

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