Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To PARCC or not to PARCC? That is the question.


Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of states that are developing exams to assess the achievement of students under Common Core State Standards.  In the previous post, I discussed what Common Core meant to Oklahoma educators. I ended that post by saying I could live with CCSS but not the PARCC assessments.  There are many, many reasons why I think that PARCC assessments are bad for Oklahoma.  Loss of instructional time, testing costs, duplication and redundancy of testing, and educational philosophy are just some of the reasons why I believe PARCC is bad for Oklahoma.

Loss of instructional time is a major concern for schools that give several tests.  When PARCC released their testing guidelines, it was suggested that 3-8 grade PARCC assessments should take somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 total hours for each grade.  With CCSS requiring 5 total assessments per year (2 Math and 3 ELA; 1 Performance Based Assessment each and 1 End of Year Assessment each plus 1 communication exam) that means each test is around 2 hours.  My major problem with these types of guidelines is that they are never accurate.  Currently McGraw Hill suggests that the 6th grade Math online test should be between 1.5 and 2 hours for the Math test.  It has taken our students an average of 3.5 hours to complete the test.  So schools should be worried that the 9 hour suggested testing time might actually be around the 12 to 18 hour range.  This is a staggering amount of time for an 8 year old to test.  The estimated time for the GRE test required to get into most post graduate schools is only 4 hours.  So PARCC’s logic is that 8 year olds should take test totaling 9 hours (15 by my experience) but 24 year olds trying to earn a PhD only have to test for 4 hours?  And never mind the fact that these kids will sit and take tests totaling 5 school days, how about the lost instructional time because they or their school mates are taking tests.  I can’t seem to get people outside education to understand that when testing starts teaching stops.  It is not possible for all students to test at the same time, so schools stagger their assessments; which mean all other school activities cease so testing is not distracted or interrupted.  At our High School, testing is a 3 week process.  All our computer labs are used so no computer lab instruction takes place.  Kids should be in Biology, but they are taking the Eng. II test.  The Algebra I kids can’t have class because their teacher is the test administrator for the Geometry test.  I will repeat, when testing starts teaching ends.

The costs of PARCC assessments are staggering.  One estimate states that Oklahoma will have to invest $250 million (1-$500 computer for every 2 kids in Oklahoma = $250 million) in technology upgrades and testing devices to conduct PARCC assessments.  The PARCC assessments guidance for devices is comical.  They recommend 1 testing device for every 2 students and suggest a 1:1 ratio of devices per students in the largest testing grade for each building.  Not to mention that the requirements these testing devices are to have almost ensure that every school district will have to upgrade or purchase new devices.  Add to that the $186 million that the USDE gave PARCC to develop the assessment plus the $15 million the SDE has requested to spend for a test that doesn’t even exist yet.

Another major problem for PARCC assessments is the duplication and redundancy of testing.  This is a twofold problem.  First, CCSS does not do away with the Social Studies or the Science tests.  So students will still have to take those tests as well.  Furthermore, it will be another testing company and testing procedure for our building test coordinators to learn and manage (PARCC, EOI/CRT, & OAAP and none from the same company with the same procedures).  Today there was a flier released from SDE trying to convince everyone that there were actually less testing under PARCC.  The flier fails to mention that there are multiple assessments for both Math and ELA.  This adds to the duplication of testing.  We currently have 1 Reading and 1 Math test in each grade.  That moves to a total of 5 PARCC tests per grade and maybe up to 3 more that is still required under Oklahoma law.  Second, why do we take exams to determine college readiness that the colleges do not care about?  Nowhere on any state college scholarship application or application for admission is a question asking HS seniors about their EOI exam scores.  If we want to determine college readiness, then why do we not use the test the colleges use to determine readiness, the ACT?  Oklahoma already gives the Explore, Plan, and ACT to middle school and high school students.  Why not continue to use Explore, Plan, and ACT tests (that are already designed to show growth and aligned to CCSS) instead of spending another $1 million to create a value added model for student growth plus the millions to create a new test! 

These are just some of the reasons why I think PARCC is bad for Oklahoma.  And not everything about PARCC is all bad.  Some of the "drag and drop" performance tasks and some other aspects of the assessments are truly cutting edge in assessments. But overall, I think we can assess student achievement on the Common Core Standards in a manner that will not cost as much money, or loose as much instructional time, and not require the complete overall of our assessment programs.  I will get into test validity, reliability, and philosophy in my next post.  If you have any comments about PARCC please feel free to add them here.