Tuesday, March 17, 2015

#PARCC: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For the past several days my students have endured the new Common Core State Standards aligned PARCC assessments. After administering and proctoring for over 8 hours in three days, I have a few takeaways from this high stakes test which we will do all over again in May. It would be very easy to dissect all of the nuanced problems within the test but I thought I would start with a generic overview of the good, the bad and the ugly. This is in large part due to the fact I am not sure what I can or cannot say about the test for fear of violating the consent form all staff had to sign. :)

The Good

I feel it fair to say the test itself presented little overall difficulty for my students. They seemed to navigate the controls with relative ease and many of them finished with ample time to spare in what I would consider generous testing time frames. Many of the students reported they enjoyed it better than the old “fill in the bubble with a number 2 pencil” tests which were the predecessor. If I had to estimate the average student was able to finish most of the tests in around 20 minutes despite being given anywhere from 60-90 minutes for each test.

The Bad

The bad of the PARCC test is that we are using it all together. Over the course of two tests (Performance Based and End of Year) there is massive loss of instructional time. Depending on your level of technology, the tests are taking schools weeks to administer. For schools testing on devices, students and teachers are unable to use any technology during these time frames due to the test monopolizing their use. What is surprising is we are not using other nationally normed tests which take a fraction of class time to administer and get feedback.

The Ugly

Another ugly of PARCC testing is really not specific to PARCC at all but high stakes testing in general. Schools have pep rallies and send home special instructions for the week of testing. Teachers and administrators reach out to the community and ask for children to be well fed and rested. They even go so far as to outlaw homework to keep the children’s stress or anxiety levels low and therefore prepped for testing. Some will have special parties and treats geared towards keeping kids positive and happy for testing week. What is ugly about this to me, is why are we not doing these things every day? Why do we put extra emphasis on the stress levels and health of a child during testing week? What are we doing to engage with parents and kids to promote positive health for kids regularly? Also, why do we have pep rallies and other gimmicks to attempt to convince kids the tests actually matter?

I realize a world without standardized testing may be as possible as a world of hover boards and flux capacitors. However, what about engaging in conversations about the health of kids more than during testing week? Why not limit the testing time period to the absolute minimum? Let’s be mindful of the amount of instructional timing lost and resources spent due to testing. Is testing the worst thing we have in schools? Not by a long shot. However, we can certainly look at the way in which it is used and make it useful to students and learning rather than companies and politicians.
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