Walking Through the PARCC

Monday, November 18, 2013 1 Comments A + a -

Earlier this month I gave a presentation to the Regional School Committee on the proposed field test this spring of a new state assessment known as the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers).  This new assessment, which will be administered in 18 states plus the District of Columbia, will be taking the place of the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests in English language arts and mathematics.  The reason for this change is the conversion to the Common Core State Standards, a new, national set of standards that is replacing our state's existing curriculum frameworks in ELA and math.  The PARCC Assessment is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Below are the slides that were presented.  The presentation really focused on the latest timelines and details that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is establishing for the transition to the PARCC.  Keep in mind, the majority of the slides were produced by DESE, not me:

PARCC Assessment Field Test Update November 4 from jpm66

Since this presentation, there have been articles in the Milford Daily News and the Upton-Mendon Town Crier that I believe accurately capture the discussion and questions that were posed during the school committee meeting.  Some of the concerns raised that are the heart of this matter include:

  1. The fact that the MURSD will get ZERO information from this field test.  None whatsoever.  Thus, no insight on how we've improved the curriculum or how individual or a group of students have grown academically.
  2. The timelines and plans for the PARCC seem to be a moving target.  Superintendents were originally told that the 2014-15 school year would the year of PARCC administration for all students in grades 3-11.  Now it will be optional; as during next school year all districts will have to choose either MCAS or the PARCC to administer to all students in grades 3-8.  Then the PARCC will be the only option in 2015-16. The latest plans also call for the MCAS to be administered to students in grade 10 (a graduation requirement) at least through 2016.
  3. The simple fact that this new assessment is still not "official!"  The State Board of Education will be voting to approve a transition plan tomorrow evening (November 19).  Under this transition plan, the Board will not decide to formally adopt the PARCC until the fall of 2015.  The lack of certainty and clarity is maddening to say the least.
  4. Perhaps the largest concern is the simple amount of time, effort, and resources that will need to go to this latest generation of testing.  The PARCC will be administered during two testing windows- one at the half-way point of the year (a performance-based assessment) and an end-of-year assessment in the spring.  By what is being presented, the amount of testing will be the following:
    • Elementary students:  220 minutes of End-of-Year Assessments and 300 minutes for Performance-Based Assessments in ELA and math:  Total = 520 min (8 hrs., 40 min)
    • Middle & HS students:  220 minutes of End-of-Year Assessments and 430 minutes for Performance-Based Assessments in ELA and math:  Total = 650 min (10 hrs., 50 min)

This takes high-stakes testing to a new level.  Think of the instructional time that is lost in order to administer these assessments!

To be clear, I am all for higher, more rigorous standards in our public schools.  I also believe that we must have a mechanism to assess how well our students are meeting these standards and how well our teachers are teaching to these standards.  All of us must be held accountable for results.  However, the reforms such as the PARCC as envisioned in the federal $4.3 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) program do not represent a reasonable approach to improving student achievement.  Much like its precursor legislation, No Child Left Behind, there is far too much emphasis on the testing of children.

Last week I was reminded of this quote from President Obama during a town hall meeting in 2011.  When asked about high-stakes testing for kids, he said the following:
"We have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at.  Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time.  They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it.  And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize."
Why does the current national agenda fly in the face of this smart, reasonable perspective?  What is good for the president's daughters should be good for all kids, no?


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Mr. B
November 18, 2013 at 9:06 PM delete

Thank you for sharing the slidedeck. I think Massachusetts is taking an approach of due diligence with such a large transition. The extension of pilots for two years provides more time for serious deliberation over the quality of the exam, its comparability with MCAS, and new demands on administration of this type of exam. I think two years is reasonable for such a transition. How can the state move forward with adoption without this sort.of a window of scrutiny and study?