Uncertainty over new Common Core tests, including the possibility that significant numbers of students will do worse on them than on past standardized tests, is prompting the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to consider alternate ways of screening students for admission to many of its magnet programs.
The controversial new tests, known as PARCC, will be administered statewide starting Monday. PARCC is short for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The tests are aligned to the more rigorous Common Core education standards in reading, writing and math that are in effect in more than 40 states.
East Baton Rouge Parish school officials, however, are looking into buying a whole new test. They want an alternative to relying solely on PARCC when it comes to deciding who gets into magnet schools.
Liz Frischhertz, chief of accountability and assessment, said apprehension about how students will fare on PARCC is one of several reasons to get a new test. This apprehension grew earlier this year after disappointing results began flowing in across the state from PARCC practice tests.
“The practice test was tough,” she said. “(The result) was not where we wanted it to be. It left a lot of room for growth.”
Frischhertz cautioned that practice tests aren’t always good predictors of final results. She also said she’s unsure where the state will set cut scores for proficiency — the dividing line between students judged on grade level and above, and those who are not. Low enough PARCC cut scores might offset anticipated declines, she said.
“We literally don’t know if (results are) going to be higher or lower,” she said.
Frischhertz said she and the magnet office are still discussing the best approach. She said she expects to have a proposal ready for the superintendent and School Board by May or June and, if approved, a new magnet screening test in place by mid-October, when the 2016-17 magnet application period begins.
If a new test is purchased, students seeking admission to a magnet program who have a 2.5 GPA or better but fall short on PARCC could have a second chance to show they are on grade level or better, she said.
The new test would apply only to students entering fifth to 10th grades. Frischhertz said she’d like a magnet screening test that can be taken online or on paper and takes no longer than two or three hours to complete.
The school system currently operates 20 magnet programs at 17 schools for more than 7,000 children. That’s one out of six children in the school system. Fourteen of those 20 programs have academic admission requirements.
Magnet schools offer specialized programs that educators hope can attract a diverse set of students.
Starting with fifth grade, prospective students seeking to enroll at selective magnet schools in Baton Rouge must show they are proficient in math and English.
For years, the school system has relied on the LEAP, and related iLEAP, tests to provide this information. That information typically arrived in May, well in advance of magnet recruiting. PARCC results this year won’t arrive until October at earliest, after magnet recruiting has started.
Theresa Porter, director of magnet programs, said she’s concerned that PARCC results will come in late enough this year that they delay how soon the school system can tell parents whether their children have been admitted to a magnet program.
Porter also noted the rancorous political debates about the future of PARCC. Having its own magnet screening test could provide some stability for the parish school district, she said.
“If the state should decide to change something, we’ll have a test that will maintain the integrity of the magnet programs,” she said.
Another big factor is students from private and home schools who want to get into the magnet program. Heretofore, the school system has had such students take LEAP tests, if they were in fourth and eighth grades. Students in other grades, however, have been allowed to submit results from standardized tests they took at the old schools to show they were on grade level.
Having one screening test would establish a level playing field, for all students, public and private, Frischhertz said.
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Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.