PARCC: The Elevator Speech

This morning, I was greeted by more “alleged news” (thanks Jack Cole for THAT gem) purporting that “Educators Urge State Board to Adopt PARCC Exam“. Despite the fact that this news is sourced in the Statehouse News Service and, therefore, just a press release unworthy of front page space, I call baloney.  Here is why: helpme

  1. PARCC is not proven to measure college and career readiness any better than the current MCAS test. Now I could go off on a tangent about the merits of any single, high-stakes test in predicting future success for students, but I’ll stick to the fact that in this era, testing rules. If the new assessment doesn’t do what it is touted to do, why bother to change?
  2. PARCC is expensive. PARCC is administered electronically. That means network and hardware expenses above and beyond what cash-strapped schools already have in place. So, instead of hiring staff or purchasing materials to support programs, a school district is supposed to buy technology upgrades for the purpose of testing. In addition, the time needed to administer PARCC is “expensive” in that instead of learning something, anything, kids are busy with an assessment of dubious value.
  3. PARCC puts many urban districts at a disadvantage.  I taught in a school with a 90%+ poverty level. My kids were not regularly exposed to technology unless they were accessing it in school. The PARCC samples I’ve seen require a high-degree of manipulation between reading a question, computation and/or side work, and moving items around a screen to create an answer. So for kids like my former students, PARCC becomes more a test of technology skill.
  4. PARCC is owned by Pearson.  Pearson – the giant conglomeration owning lots and lots of curriculum resources and now they own the PARCC test. Pearson also dabbles in teacher effectiveness, which (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn) is tied to the assessments (those assessments are very ones Pearson also owns). In the old days, the US government would call this a monopoly. Now it’s simply sweet one-stop shopping. What could possibly go wrong there?

Why in the world does Massachusetts continue to entertain alignment to PARCC? I have no idea.

It’s so easy, ANYone can do it

Recently the New York Times published an article revealing some of the back story about standardized test scoring.  Read the story in entirety here.

Is there anyone else who finds the bar for test scorers a little low?DSC_0107

This year our grade level team struggled to standardize both on-demand and project writing samples. Trust me, there is no sheaf of papers with rubrics that can prepare anyone, let alone a non-educator, for scoring student work consistently – and fairly.

In the article, one scorer admitted that at the time of the interview – June 2015 – she was just beginning to get the hang of scoring a piece.  Consider that admission along side the window for test season. What does that statement mean for the other pieces that were scored ahead of this learning curve? Were the scores inflated or deflated?

In speaking about the vetting process for scorers, a PARCC spokesperson said

Parcc said that more than three-quarters of the scorers have at least one year of teaching experience, but that it does not have data on how many are currently working as classroom teachers. Some are retired teachers with extensive classroom experience, but one scorer in San Antonio, for example, had one year of teaching experience, 45 years ago.

With all respect, are we to believe that just a year of experience makes one an expert in standards? Or that a former educator with 1 year experience 45 years ago, understands and has unpacked the Common Core Standards?

So why not use experienced classroom teachers who presumably have expertise in the standards that are assessed? Well, our friends at Smarter Balance have an answer for that too.

Having classroom teachers engaged in scoring is a tremendous opportunity,” said Tony Alpert, executive director of Smarter Balanced. “But we don’t want to do it at the expense of their real work, which is teaching kids.”

So it’s okay for a classroom teacher to spend inordinate amounts of time doing test preparation or proctoring high stakes tests, but participating in scoring would take away from teaching time? Feigning false concern for how teachers use their time – and possibly having to pay for scorers with expertise and knowledge of the standards?

Oh right. Anyone should be able to do this.

Best Teacher on Earth?

One of the joys of teaching elementary-aged students is receiving a card emblazoned with #1 Teacher or similar sentiments.  A few weeks ago, one of my students wrote out a card telling me I was “the best teacher on Earth.”

I’m not sure I feel about how deserved that honor is. You see, lately I think I might better be called a test proctor, not a teacher.

Since we administered our first state test in the March Round – an 18 hour test extravaganza spread over 3 days – our students have endured a 40-question Math Benchmark, Math Module tests (3!), Fountas/Pinnell Reading Assessments  (administered individually), and SRI computerized reading tests. In the middle of all this testing, students also completed 2 days of state testing in mathematics.

Now with 11 days until school ends, instead of enjoying a more relaxed class atmosphere, students are completing yet another Module test, a computerized assessment for a CAI program, and a progress monitoring Math test.

With all this testing going on, when do we actually teach? I’m not sure I can tell you that exactly. In between?

Take a look at all the time lost to testing in the last 2 months.  Staggering and concerning, isn’t it?  And what does the assessment show? It shows we can give lots of tests and that the kids have a good level of stamina for testing. Beyond that, we’re often so busy administering assessments that taking a thoughtful look at results and what they mean for instruction never seems to get done. If we can’t learn anything about what is working or not working for our students, what is the point?

This week, my colleagues across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are attempting to raise public awareness. We don’t need all the time taken away from instruction to complete assessments show us what students need.

We need #lesstesting.

January

I used to love the month of January. Not the weather, the concept of the month.

It was a month for new beginnings. For resetting classroom routines. For trying out something new.

Not any more.

Now January is a month of drudgery. Of test. After test. After test.

This week, I mapped out all of the assessments being required of my fourth grade students. It was shocking to write them down in one place: 2 days of ACCESS testing for my ELLs plus 15 minutes per student for the ACCESS Speaking subtests (about another day), Math pre- and post- module tests, Math Benchmark test, Scholastic Reading Inventory, Science District test, Scholastic Math Inventory, and a Writing On Demand test.

That’s 10 mandated tests in 20 days. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

January used to be fun for kids and for teacher. It used to be full of teachable moments. Of going outdoors on a cold day and exploring what happens to bubbles when you expose them to cold. Of celebrating the 100th day of school by pretending it was 100 degrees outdoors.  Not any more.

Now January is a month of tests. I dislike January. A lot.

 

Go Ahead…. Make My Day

My students started their state testing yesterday.

While it continues to aggravate me that my kids are getting tested as if it were the end of the school year (which, believe me it is not!), the test is here and we need to deal with it. By the way, did I mention the test is scheduled before the second trimester has ended? And that this year the students will have had a week’s less of instruction because of the snow days we’ve piled up here in Massachusetts?

In the end, all I can do is ensure that my students have some strategies under their belts: strategies for decoding those challenging words – especially important for my English Language Learners, strategies for deriving word meaning within context, strategies for understanding what they’re reading, and strategies for making the best out of this testing situation.

I have no idea how my students did on yesterday’s test. I am not allowed (by law!) to even take a look through students’ completed test booklets to see that they haven’t skipped a question. I do know that I saw children who are 8- and 9-years-old diligently reading (read the directions, read the italics, read the questions, THEN read the selection), and underlining, and rereading, and writing.

If effort and persistence were something we were assessing, every single one of my kids would be proficient. And that makes my day.