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Internet Failure Interrupts ‘Zombie PARCC’ At 125 Chicago Schools

The outage began in the morning when AT&T, the district’s service provider, accidentally cut through a fiber optic cable.

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CHICAGO — On a major day for annual standardized testing, an internet outage forced several Chicago schools to suspend administration of the state test that parents have nicknamed the “Zombie PARCC.”

A spokeswoman for the district said Tuesday’s outage affected 125 schools and began in the morning when AT&T, the district’s service provider, accidentally cut through a fiber optic cable.

It was not immediately clear how many students at that time were taking the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, which the state issued as a replacement for the standardized PARCC tests after a skirmish with the vendor. The resurrection and administration of a test that many expected to be dead were what earned it the moniker “Zombie PARCC.”

Only students in fifth through eighth grades take the test online, and 88 percent of Chicago students had already completed the test this year, according to the spokeswoman. Schools that were affected will have to reschedule assessments either later in the week or later in the month since Chicago campuses are closed on Wednesday for report card pick-up and all next week for spring break.

Tuesday’s internet glitch did not affect Chicago high school students who were taking the SAT college entrance exam, which is administered by paper and pencil. But the outage cut service to other users besides schools, according to the district

Federal law requires states to administer an annual test, and 95 percent of students must participate or risk losing funding. High opt-out percentages can also impact individual schools by affecting their proficiency scores, which, in turn, factor into state ratings. 

In response to the outage, the state will extend the compliance window past the original due date of April 26, according to the district.

The Illinois Assessment of Readiness replaced a controversial test, the PARCC, which was developed by a consortium of states and used to gauge children’s achievement. But many school administrators and families complained about the length of the testing — 4½ hours each for math and English — and what it measured. So the state decided to replace it.

But when Illinois sought a firm to create a new test, its PARCC vendor contested the contract. So the state repackaged the old test under a new name, with a shorter testing time and many of the same questions.

Thousands of parents threatened this spring to opt out, and at least one parents’ group developed an opt-out toolkit.

Chicago Public Schools students take multiple assessments. Chicago uses a test known as the NWEA/MAP to gauge student achievement and determine ratings for its K-8 schools. Illinois, however, uses the IAR to assess school performance, and scores factor into whether a school lands on a list of low performers that triggers some state interventions.    

Illinois’ new state school superintendent, Carmen Ayala, has said that she wants to re-evaluate the way the state assesses students and schools. She has asked for $3 million in her budget to study and streamline standardized testing.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that participation rate goals are set by the federal government. 

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