Friday, May 15, 2015

Standardized Tests in the Classroom; PARCC

After I'd Gone

Part of the reason I retired when I did after 38 years in the classroom was "the handwriting on the wall."  More and more, we teachers were going to be held accountable by forces beyond our control.
Student scores on standardized tests were a major part of it. (There were other factors involved in my retiring, but the coming changes in public education gave me one big push.)

The students in my classes generally did well on the tests. Whether or not the test prep I did with them had an impact or not, I'll never really know. We never really got to see the tests themselves to see what specific question students got wrong, or why.

That's one of the biggest flaws in the testing system. Scores don't show up for months after the test and they only reflect numerical values of right and wrong answers. They give no real feedback and serve no practical educational purpose in the classroom since neither teachers nor students ever see the tests again to figure out where the learning problems might have been.

HSPT was just a number. Nothing more. Pass or fail. Graduate or not. (Or get remediation and an alternate score.)  Simple as that.

And not enough, apparently.

Along came PARCC, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Sounds great. I've looked at sample questions posted online from the test.  Online PARCC Practice Tests They are similar in many ways to HSPT and HSPA questions, formatted for computer, and disguised to look more mentally challenging. Students choose an answer for one question and then choose evidence or reasons for their answer in the next. Looks as if the student is being asked to use higher level thinking skills here. 
Question Callout Clip Art

The fact is, by having a list of answers to select from, the same process of test taking skills can be used.  As long as answers are multiple choice, the lessons apply.  

An analytic essay on a given topic would be a far better way of figuring out whether or not a student understood a piece of reading, but who would read and grade it?  Far easier to simply pass a Scantron form through a grading machine or let a computer grading system count the number of right and wrong answers. Then again, you get the all-glorified test score that puts the student on the chart. 

It's that second "C" in PARCC that gets me most, though. "Career" Readiness? A skilled carpenter or plumber needs some math basics, for sure. As well, a certain ability to read and write. But his or her true skill is with his hands and a mind able to analyze and develop solutions to problems no printed or computerized test can ever measure. I remember I needed a mounting table--kind of stand on platform--so I could get on my rather tall horse. I went to one of the carpentry shops in my school, explained the problem, gave the teacher and students a height requirement and they went to work. Ten years later, that mounting platform is still sturdy, safe, and useful to me every time I want to ride.  Find me a standardized test to evaluate whether or not those students were ready for a career as carpenters. 

Penguin Plumber Clip ArtDrain clogged? Unless it's with test papers, I'm not sure the PARCC test will help your plumber get the water running again.

And the other "C" isn't so useful either, at least not for the student who really has no intention of going to college. True college level skills, if I remember them correctly, are higher order thinking skills demanding pretty high levels of reading and math. Fair enough. The SAT: Scholastic Aptitude Test and the ACT: American College Test have been assessing that for years already.  Do we really need other test scores?

The time out of class used for testing has increased with PARCC as well. While I am not in a regular teaching position any more. I do substitute teach I  eventually lost count of the number of days I was aware the regular school week had been disrupted by one kind of standardized test or another, and PARCC takes up two blocks of time of at least three days at the high school level. Add the days for test prep most schools feel is necessary and that's a good chunk of time out of classroom learning activities. Students at the lower grade levels also have science tests so it's even more time for them.

Many schools give other tests as well during the year--NWEA is just one example--and class time is lost there too. Regardless of how much time is spent in the testing, the whole procedure is very disruptive to the natural flow of learning/teaching in the classroom. Students need to suddenly
"switch gears," face the anxiety of a high stakes test for several days and then return to more normal classroom activities tired and fed up with reading, writing, and math.

Enough already. I applaud the parents who rebel by opting out of testing for their children. Keep up the good work. Your child is not a number on a graph.

1 comment:

  1. Jean; Someone who knows you and works at my local library was kind enough to give me your card after she learned both of our blogs are hosted here on blogspot; mine is called Reflections From The Bell Curve. She also told me about a local writers group you're involved with. I'm interested in learning more about that group if you'd be willing to share. You can reach me via the e-mail included in my blogger profile. If you do write (I hope you will), please include something in your subject line that mentions your blog so I'll know not to delete your e-mail or treat it as spam . Thanks for responding.