by Nora Pehrson
Hearst, Murch and Wilson students start taking new standardized assessment tests this week, and Deal students will begin testing next week. No number 2 pencils are required.
PARCC was developed by Pearson, an education company that develops curricula, digital learning programs, and standardized tests. It replaces the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) test, which had been in use since spring 2008. The “partnership” part of PARCC includes 12 states and the District of Columbia, and is aligned with the Common Core standards.
According to the official PARCC website, many current standardized state tests have been designed to measure basic skills. The PARCC tests are marketed as a way to assess actual performance and “point the way to what students need to learn” in preparation for college and or a career. Some school districts are also using the tests to grade teacher performance, but DCPS says this year, at least, it will not.
On February 12th, the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) held the first in a series of community meetings to address questions about PARCC. A representative from OSSE made a presentation to a small group consisting mostly of DCPS parents at the Francis-Stevens campus of School Without Walls.
PARCC has not been met with universal acceptance in DC or in other participating states. Ruth Wattenberg, the Ward 3 Board of Education representative, says she’s heard from parents, educators, and other stakeholders who are concerned that the standardized tests take time away from valuable classroom instruction. The focus on math and reading, furthermore, can lead to a narrowing of the curriculum, “squeezing out… social studies, sciences, and the arts.” Additionally, some parents at the Francis-Stevens meeting were concerned that results from the test would not be available until the following school year. They were worried that this delay would diminish teachers’ ability to apply the data to actual student instruction.
Opponents also believe the tests are confusing, too lengthy and expensive. Some adults have struggled to answer questions in sample tests and are concerned that teaching to the test will not better prepare students for work or college. And, some are telling their schools and elected leaders their kids will not participate. They include a DCPS teacher whose child attends school in Montgomery County. She is supporting her daughter’s decision to refuse the test.
The so-called opt-out movement is growing, and elected officials are paying attention. The New Jersey state assembly voted on February 23rd to place a three-year moratorium on using the test results as a measure of student achievement and teacher performance. The bill passed by 63 to 7. Governor Chris Christie has been an advocate for both the Common Core and PARCC. That same day in New Mexico, 250 Santa Fe high school students walked out of class in protest of the PARCC test.