A day in the PARCC

IMG_6217 Over the weekend, I attended a community organized discussion about PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, though I prefer to call it “the test that’s replacing MCAS.”

Built around the new Common Core state standards, PARCC is an online math and English/language arts assessment being rolled out in 17 states. Massachusetts joined the PARCC consortium to receive federal “Race to the Top,” funds. In the fall of 2015, the Massachusetts State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education – fondly known as BESE – will vote on whether to adopt PARCC or stick with MCAS.

More immediately, PARCC is about to be field tested on 15 percent of Massachusetts students. In my community of Somerville, students will be taking PARCC next week.

When 40 parents and teachers gathered at the East Somerville School at 9am on Saturday morning, we started by trying out someĀ sample questions for ourselves. Personally, I went with 3-5 math, 3-5 ELA, and high school math.

The format of this online test is really interesting. When I took the GREs, it had a computer-based format, but that test was essentially an electronic scantron. It would ask you a question, you’d select A-D, and it would automatically advance you to the next screen. It benefited from digital technology, but was not significantly shaped by it.

IMG_6216The PARCC, however, is designed with online technology in mind. You can drag and drop answers, highlight text, draw shapes and interact in ways that a scantron won’t allow. The math sections have free response boxes where you can write out equations – which seemed cool, until I realized I couldn’t figure out how to format the equations properly.

High school math was particularly challenging. It had word based problems that I would read, re-read, and then think…wait, what are they asking?

After playing around with the test, we discussed what we thought of PARCC and its roll out. I was particularly impressed with the tone of the conversation – community members asked questions, community members shared answers. People spoke from experience and referenced where they had learned certain pieces of information. People followed up on each other comments, introducing themselves as they went. Everybody spoke. Deliberation at its finest.

People worried about computer literacy. One teacher commented that computers were disappearing from the classroom – they’re too expensive to maintain, she said. A parent said his daughter didn’t remember the last time she used a computer in school.

An English Language Learner teacher wondered how her students would respond to this new test.

People wondered why PARCC is time limited – a change from MCAS which is not.

Some liked that the test demands more critical thinking. It’s testing a deeper level of knowledge that our children should be acquiring. Some worried that the format – online, fixed response boxes, and asking only for the final answer – wouldn’t allow children to demonstrate whether they had acquired that deeper level of critical thinking or not.

Finally, people showed love for their schools. Somerville schools are fantastic, one parent said, but it’s never reflected in the numbers. How can we really show the great things going on in our schools?

Tests can be important tools for improving instruction, a teacher added. But there is more to a child then their ability to take a test.

“Take the Test Day” was sponsored by the Somerville Teachers Association, Citizens for Public Schools, and the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative.

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