Tuesday, March 3, 2015

No Walk in the PARCC

Not long ago I read with glee about Chicago Public Schools saying they were not giving the PARCC test to about 600 of their schools. To me, it was a strong message being sent -- we aren't ready for this test and we won't force it upon our kids until we are ready. But today, it was announced that they would indeed be administering it starting next week. State Superintendent Christopher Koch held them hostage with money, threatening to withhold funds if PARCC wasn't administered as the law states it should be. Sadly, money talks and CPS had to cave.

But now two things make me raise my eyebrows. One of them is the late notice to the 600 schools who didn't think they were administering the PARCC test. I have helping teachers for the past month work with their kids on how to navigate the test -- how to use the online tools available to them during the test, looking at the different kinds of questions and how to answer them (there are single answer multiple choice, multiple answer multiple choice, fill in the blank, highlight, drag and drop, drop-down menu, constructed response, graphing, and equation editor questions -- all requiring different methods of inputting the answers). We've practiced having the kids log in and out as well as flag and review questions, too. According to the directions in the script, once the students start the test, teachers are not allowed to help the students answer the questions or use any of the online tools unless there is some sort of technology malfunction, so it is important that the kids know how to move around the page, move from one question to the next, and how to answer questions. Some of the navigation of the test is intuitive for these "digital natives", but some of it is not. And kids who might not have a lot of access to technology might also find the navigation challenging. How are the kids in those 600 schools going to get properly acquainted with the tools they need to know to take this test in the short amount of time they now have -- less than a week? Maybe they have been prepping the kids in case this whole thing fell through (exactly as it has).

The other thing that makes me concerned is that students in Chicago Public Schools in grades 3 - 5 are taking the paper-pencil version of the test. The bulk of my assistance has been with students in grades 3 and 4; in our district, all our students are taking the online version of the test. During practice sessions, kids have had questions about how to use the tools and navigate the test. More than one student forgot how to move to the next question. Had this been the actual test and not a practice session, nobody would have been allowed to tell the student how to go to the next question, so either that student would sit there and not move on or figure it out on his or her own. Hopefully the latter can happen and in a timely manner because if the student takes 20 minutes to figure it out, that is 20 minutes of testing time lost, meaning the student will likely not finish the test. Kids who are taking paper/pencil tests probably won't have to worry about not knowing how to move on to the next question. Also, students taking the online test will have to do their constructed responses on a keyboard as well as use the equation editor, meaning they use a keyboard and the buttons on the screen to develop their responses for math questions. This is going to be a much more cumbersome process than it will be for the kids who are handwriting their responses. Kids who don't have a lot of keyboarding experience, as kids in grades 3 and 4 tend to be, could be at a real disadvantage with the online version of the test.

So when you consider that within the entire PARCC partnership of 10 states plus Washington, D.C., some kids have been prepared for navigating the online test but some haven't and some don't need to, and that some kids have good keyboarding skills but some don't and some don't need them, and some kids have plenty of access to technology in and out of school but some don't and some don't need the access to technology for this test, how can ANYONE hope to come up with STANDARDIZED scores on a test that really isn't STANDARDIZED for everyone? How fair will it be to compare the scores for 3rd graders taking the test on a computer with limited keyboarding skills and computer experience to the scores of 3rd graders taking the test on paper?

Please tell me I'm not the only one who feels like this makes no sense.

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