Top Ten Takeaways from the Back-to-School Webinar

Illinois PTA and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) hosted a Back-to-School webinar with state superintendent Dr. Chris Koch and Illinois PTA president Peg Staehlin on Students Lying On Floor In Classroom.Tuesday, September 9th. Topics discussed included the new Illinois Learning Standards, assessment, family engagement, and the award-winning Illinois school report card. Here are the top ten takeaways from the discussion. ISBE will be sharing the webinar, slideshow, and question and answer session soon on their Hot Topics page.

The New Illinois Learning Standards Are Not Just English and Math
Illinois continues to be a leader in developing and adopting new learning standards. While most people know about the new Illinois learning standards in English and Math (Illinois’s version of the Common Core State Standards), the state has also been a leader in the creation and adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards and new Physical Education Standards. The state is currently involved in the development of new standards for social studies and the arts.

Illinois Teachers Are Implementing the New Standards
The state may set the standards and the school district may choose the curriculum, but actually implementing the new Illinois Learning Standards falls to the teacher in the classroom. The 2014 ISBE Teacher Survey of Standards Implementation showed that almost 15% of Illinois teachers do not feel prepared for the new standards. ISBE reports that the schools having the most success in implementing the new standards are those where the teachers are given time to work in teams, allowing them to share ideas and best practices. ISBE has created a new website, Illinois Teacher Voices, with videos of teachers discussing how the new standards are already making a difference in their classrooms.

Teachers Handle How the Standards Are Taught in the Classroom
Julie Behme, a fifth-grade teacher at Carlinville Intermediate School, shared how the new math standards have changed teaching in her classroom. In the past, she taught math the traditional way—lecture on a topic covering how to solve a problem algorithmically, do a couple of examples on the board, invite one or two students to do a problem on the board, then hand out a worksheet for the students to complete.

With the new standards, she will often teach three different ways to solve a problem, one of which is often graphically-oriented, and she teaches the old algorithmic method last. Her students are also encouraged to work together to solve the problems. The result is that there is a lot more discussion in her classroom (“What if we tried this?”), different methods work better for different students, and even for students that prefer the old algorithmic method there is a deeper understanding of the mathematic processes behind the algorithm than in the past.

The New Standards Require Students to Use Critical Thinking
Pam Reilly, a second-grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary and the 2014 Illinois Teacher of the Year, shared how the new English Language Arts (ELA) standards are encouraging critical thinking in her students. Using Charlotte’s Web as an example, she explained how the old standards would ask students, “Who are the main characters in the book?” while the new standards require students to go deeper and support their arguments with information from the text with questions such as, “Pick a character from the book and tell how they changed over the course of the story.” Students are also reading more nonfiction and learning about the world through reading with the new standards. Requiring students to think critically by using research and evidence has led to more meaningful discussions in her classroom.

The New PARCC Assessments Begin This Year
This spring Illinois students will take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) instead of the old Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) in grades 3 through 8. PARCC also replaces the Prairie State Assessment Exam at the high school level, but it is not tied to the 11th grade but to when a student completes Algebra II, Integrated Math III, or English Language Arts III. Testing will occur in two phases: a performance-based assessment when 75% of the teaching has been done (March-April) and an end-of-year assessment when 90% of the teaching is completed (May). The earlier testing is focused on demonstrating knowledge and skills, while the end-of-year assessment is shorter and focuses more on machine-scored questions. The tests are designed to be given online, but ISBE will offer pencil and paper tests as well as schools transition their technology level to offer the assessments online.

Students Like the Online Tests
PARCC was field tested this spring in 500 school districts and 1,200 schools encompassing 110,888 students. The field test was a practice run to gather feedback from teachers and students, not to assess students. Two-thirds of the students participating in the field test reported that they preferred taking the online test rather than a pencil and paper test. In addition, 95% of the students finished the English test in the allowed time, while 88% of the students finished the math test on time. Only one-third of the students said the English test was more difficult than what they are currently working on in school. For math, 72% said that the test was harder than their schoolwork. The difficulty is to not surprising given the higher expectations of the new learning standards.

ACT Is Not Going Away This Year (Maybe)
Dr. Koch said that the state will be offering the ACT alongside PARCC at no cost to schools or districts for 2014-15, but schools and districts must let ISBE know in early September whether they are opting in or out of ACT testing. If a school or district doesn’t offer the ACT to students, they will have to take it individually on a national testing day, and ISBE is planning to provide fee waivers for low-income students. During the question period, Dr. Koch stated that he sees colleges using PARCC in the future much like they use the ACT and SAT today.

Dr. Koch also shared that the state will provide all of the WorkKeys subtests to districts to administer as they see fit, whether to all students, some students, or not at all. The WorkKeys tests allow a student to earn a National Career Readiness Certificate, an industry-recognized credential that certifies essential skills needed for workplace success.

ISBE Is Providing Districts More Support for Family Engagement
Family engagement in a child’s education can be a key to student success. ISBE has created a set of principles and strategies to help schools form meaningful partnerships with families. This guidance, called the Family Engagement Framework, is based on four principles:
• Develop systems that support family engagement.
• Build welcoming and supportive environments.
• Enhance communication with parents.
• Include parents in decision-making.
Parents can find a draft version of the framework and provide feedback at the IllinoisParents website.

The Illinois School Report Card is the Best in the Nation
The Education Commission of the States rated school report cards from across the nation, and both parents and experts put the new Illinois School Report Card as #1 in the nation. The state, district, and school report cards now provide multiple measures of student and school performance, focusing on student growth and recognizing that students are not just a test score. The 2014 Illinois School Report Cards will be released on October 31, but you can still see last year’s report card at illinoisreportcard.com.

PTA Provides Valuable Parent Resources
Throughout the webinar, Dr. Koch and other speakers often referred to various PTA resources that provide parents additional information and support on the topics being covered. Illinois PTA president Peg Staehlin pointed out that the PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, originally created in 1997, closely parallel ISBE’s new Family Engagement Framework. Below are links to the resources discussed during the webinar:
National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
Parents’ Guides to Student Success
Parents’ Guide to New Assessments in Illinois
Common Core Video Series
Common Core Webinar Series

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