The following op-ed was authored by Williamsfield Schools Superintendent Tim Farquer and featured in the Peoria Journal Star on Saturday, March 14, 2015.
Our ultimate goal as educators is to help students position themselves for success in life after graduation. Starting this month, districts across Illinois are moving to a new assessment system that will serve as a powerful tool in helping us better reach that objective.
The new test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), was built from the ground up to reflect our state’s academic standards, based on Common Core.
In my 300-student district in Williamsfield, we’ve already seen the benefit of the shift to new state standards and the PARCC assessments. In response, we have developed local curricular materials aligned to the key elements of math and literacy competency. We are better using statistics, geometry and algebraic thinking as a means of deepening student understanding of basic math skills, while also inspiring students to grapple with texts so they can compare and synthesize ideas.
Prior to the shift, we delivered off-the-shelf assessments to determine whether students were on track in key academic areas. These tests gave us a general frame of reference for student performance, but they didn’t align with the knowledge that students need for postsecondary success. Our local assessments, by contrast, are designed to test both students’ understanding of basic concepts and their ability to apply those concepts through critical thinking and analysis — just as they will be required to do in the real world. In this sense, the tests are not only a way to gauge readiness but a tool to facilitate student growth.
We’re confident the PARCC assessments will serve in the same way. We delivered the PARCC field tests last spring, and students who took the tests observed that the assessments required them to think rather than just find the answers. We are comforted by the knowledge that PARCC tests were developed with input from top-notch Illinois educators.
I’ve observed the need to better prepare students to thrive after high school throughout my years as an educator. As a former teacher, coach and assistant principal at Limestone Community High School, I recall seeing far too many graduates enroll in college, only to be sent to remedial courses. I see the same thing happening to our Williamsfield students. We have a moral obligation to do better. As a friend to many Williamsfield parents and as a parent of three Williamsfield students, I feel that obligation on both a personal and professional level.
It’s easy to let fear of change or political rhetoric deter us from making the necessary shifts, but we must remain committed to their implementation if we’re going to keep students on track for success. Let’s not let this opportunity go to waste.