PARCC Week Day 4: Time Matters

IMG_0021If you haven’t yet looked at the PARCC sample tests available, you should (link here). It doesn’t matter what your connection might be to education – parent, teacher, child – take a look. The practice tests are available in both paper-pencil and computer form, but if you can, try out the computer based test (CBT) because that is the direction that high-stakes tests are headed by 2019. And as you work through the practice test, imagine yourself as a student taking these assessments.

The test administrator’s manuals gives some insight into how our students will experience paper-and-pencil version of PARCC this spring.  First of all, the tests which are now called units have time limits. This is a big deal and here’s why.

Prior testing using the MCAS assessment was untimed, meaning that a student could work for as long as needed to complete the exam as long as school was in session. The only limit to testing time was that the test had to be turned in at the end of the school day. I was a test administrator for MCAS for the 9 years I taught Grades 3 and 4. My students always needed additional time over the suggestions from MCAS to complete each test. Each year, the students used the time to work carefully.

Students who are designated as English Language Learners and/or have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan may have additional time to work on tests, just as allowed on the MCAS test. This is clearly outlined in PARCC’s Accommodations Manuals (see Appendix E here). That is good news for those students; however, there are many students without such plans for whom a timed test will not be beneficial.

The majority of my fourth grade students needed 3 1/2 or more hours as they carefully read, reread/reworked passages and problems, checked and transferred answers diligently to bubble (answer) sheets. They worked carefully and diligently to check and re-check questions and answers, going back into texts often to make sure they had made their best answer choice based on evidence from texts or had calculated a mathematical problem correctly. We ask our students to slow down, understand the task, and take apart the text or problem carefully to arrive at an answer. Now they need to hurry up.

Using information posted on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website, click the following link to see the number of “units” and test times for Grades 3 through 8 this year. PARCC Times

This schedule will be challenging for many. The PARCC administration “window” (time schools may schedule the tests) is April 25 – May 27.  April 25 is the first Monday after returning from school vacation and unlikely to be a test date. If the scheduled Early Release on May 4 remains, that would probably not be a test date either since the students needing additional time would have their available test time cut short. For this same reason, schools correctly will hesitate to schedule more than one “unit” in a school day. For a classroom teacher, moving ahead with new topics of instruction when ELLs or students on IEPs are still testing and out of the room makes the balance of a test day difficult to plan for.  Here’s hoping that temperatures during the four weeks of the test window are not extremely hot.

Even without a move to computer based testing this year, new test times will most likely make an impact on our students. Will students react to this more compact test window or new time limits during standardized testing?

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