PARCC Assessments: “To exploit us, they measure us. To control us, they measure us.” (Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas),

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts– for support rather than illumination.
Andrew Lang,

With the State tests in grades 3-8 looming schools are in full test prep mode. Test results were always important, now they become life and death, not necessarily for the students, definitely for teachers and schools.

Test scores drive value-added scores for individual teachers which drive ratings, tenure determinations and dismissals; for schools progress on standardized tests determines survival.

Some school leaders download scores, create an error matrix, disaggregate answers and provide each teacher with specific skills that require attention for each kid. Teachers embed remediation in every day instruction and test prep is minimal. Unfortunately, too few.

Others simply drill and kill.

In common planning time, if it exists, teachers work collaboratively on assignments to address areas of concern and discuss the impact of lessons, a good practice.

Unfortunately in too many schools common planning time provides teachers with more time to prepare (not a bad thing!) or share lesson planning with other teachers, little time is spend discussing kids or the effectiveness of lessons, lots of time on the “teaching” side and little on the “learning” side.

Schools and teachers succumb – test prep day after day – mind numbing and counterproductive, it deadens the learning process.

School districts emphasize designing and implementing common core-based lessons, on where you fall on the Danielson 4-tier scale and little or no time checking for understanding during and at the end of every lesson.

Charlotte Danielson trumps Mike Schmoker. Too bad. (Spend a few minutes and read Schmoker here)

If you think there is too much emphasis on testing now take a look into the future.

A couple of years down the road both the full implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC assessments will drop down out of the clouds.

New York State belongs to the 24-state PARCC consortium, it’s goals seem reasonable,

The priority purposes of PARCC Assessments are:

  1. Determine whether students are      college- and career-ready or on track
  2. Assess the full range of the      Common Core Standards, including standards that are difficult to measure
  3. Measure the full range of      student performance, including the performance high and low performing      students
  4. Provide data during the      academic year to inform instruction, interventions and professional      development
  5. Provide data for      accountability, including measures of growth
  6. Incorporate innovative approaches      throughout the system

The path to achieve the goals is five tests a year – that right, five tests a year for every kid.

To address the priority purposes, PARCC will develop an assessment system comprised of four components. Each component will computer-delivered and will leverage technology to incorporate innovations.

  • Two summative, required      assessment components designed to:
    • Make “college- and       career-readiness” and “on-track” determinations,
    • Measure the full range of       standards and full performance continuum, and
    • Provide data for       accountability uses, including measures of growth.
  • Two non-summative, optional      assessment components designed to:
    • Generate timely information       for informing instruction, interventions, and professional development       during the school year.
  • An additional third      non-summative component will assess students’ speaking and listening      skills

PARCC will also leverage technology throughout the design and delivery of the assessment system. The overall assessment system design will include a mix of constructed response items, performance-based tasks, and computer-enhanced, computer-scored items. The PARCC assessments will be administered via computer, and a combination of automated scoring and human scoring will be employed.

If you roll your eyes and cynically conclude this can never happen, beware: the State Education Department is in full PARCC implementation mode (see plans here)

You may snicker and think:  how computer-based testing can be in place for the 2014-15 school year – my school struggles now with technology.

The folks in Albany are aggressively moving towards a statewide Computer-Based Testing (CBT) system by the 2014-15 school year.

What will the PARCC assessments test?

As we move towards the 2014-15 school year states will begin to embed the Common Core State Standards  into their testing programs and school districts will require embedding standards into lessons. The Department of Education will roll out the Instructional Expectations for the 12-13 school year and school leaders will be required to monitor the inclusion of the CCSS into daily teacher lessons.

Who’s paying for all this test creation and implementation?

PARCC has $180m in federal dollars and New York State is using Race to the Top pieces of silver to create the data warehouses, sort of a statewide ARIS, and work with school districts to create CBT capability.

Of course there is an “event” in November that could impact the entire plan – who knows the impact of a Republican presidency. Romney or Santorum (heavens, or whomever, forbid) could be more enthusiastic about testing than the current administration!

Theoretically the tetra-bits of data will enable teachers to modify instruction for each and every kid- to truly differentiate to address the “lacks” of kids.

Teachers will wince and rightfully point to those other day-to-day impediments to success,

* the chronic lateness to period one classes.

* chronic school absenteeism

* the impact of the world outside of school: poverty, gangs, housing, despair … those behaviors beyond the scope of school.

* the zip code dilemma

* lack of resources in the neediest schools

The policy makers nod, agree, point to the use of regression analysis formulas, such as value-added modeling to adjust for the external factors, and move forward.

Numerical teacher ratings based on teacher evaluation laws, tenure determinations, teacher dismissals, school closings, teacher salary and layoff lists will increasingly be based on the results of student tests.

While New York State does have a multiple measures system there is no question that frequent student tests will influence classroom observations.

School districts, principals, teachers and parents oppose the increasing reliance on testing. Diane Ravitch, school boards (with the exception of NYC), principals and teacher unions all feel the pendulum is swinging in the wrong direction. Collectively they point to the highest achieving nations on international assessments who all abjure frequent testing and depend upon decisions made collaboratively at the school level. So far, to no avail.

The key decision makers in the field of education are not the educators – not the scholars and researchers who have spent a career working in school districts with students and teachers – the economists dominate policy-making – peruse the agenda of the Association for Education Finance and Policy just held in Boston.

Arne Duncan crows that the federal turnaround dollars are working (see press release here). Have you ever heard of a federal program that didn’t work (“Don’t all answer at once”)?

Education increasingly is driven fromWashington; states are uncomfortable, not uncomfortable enough to turn back the DC lucre.

If you don’t like No Child Left Behind, and who does, apply for a waiver; however, the waiver requirements are basically a ploy to embed the Duncan agenda permanently into states. And, if you’re state doesn’t take the bait Duncan is suggesting that school districts can apply directly for waivers.

Can a state decide that it wants to measure accountability in another fashion, not a standardized test, perhaps a portfolio of student work measured by a high quality rubric and graded outside of the school district?

Highly unlikely.

And, certainly not in New York State, who gulped the cool aid when they leapt onto the Race to the Top band wagon. See web site.

Kids, get out that number 2 pencil, oh, excuse me, computer stylus, how can we fit lunch and gym into 24/7 test prep?

I hear rumors that in a few years the feds will require stapling chips into kids’ earlobes so we can get immediate feedback as to whether our lesson worked, oh yea of little faith who scoffed at black helicopters…


7 responses to “PARCC Assessments: “To exploit us, they measure us. To control us, they measure us.” (Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatistas),

  1. Retired- no more Public Enemy Number One

    Perhaps the kids should be treated like the financiers and banksters and be rewarded for failure. When the last remaining teachers have all been repeatedly humiliated, scorned, and punished by public opprobrium, only the financiers and banksters will remain to staff the classrooms. The hooting and jeering will begin, and the expression “culture conflict”will again surface… .

    Suddenly, salaries will rise… .


  2. Eric Nadelstern

    While I agree that the future you paint is frought with peril, I haven’t heard the Republican candidates for President put forth a coherent educational agenda, nor have I seen one described on these pages.

    Simply hoping that we will return to an imagined perfection of the past will not create the circumstances where more of our kids will be more successful. However, a balanced accountability approach, including measures that are both internal and external to the school and involving teachers in both its creation and implementation, holds great promise to raise student achievent.

    Rather that simply bemoan and attack any effort at accountability, we need to turn it to the advantage of those who work and study in our schools.


  3. Sounds a bit paranoid…remember when the internet was unmonitored? Remember when they needed a warrent to tap a pay phone. Remember when you didn’t need id. to buy a bus ticket. Soon they will be kind enough to give you a national id. to vote. Remember poll taxes. Turn your gun in for cash, they wont ask for id, they just take your picture. God bless America-it was nice while it lasted.

    Chips and kool-aid, is it tailgate season yet?


  4. Sheila Owens

    What is the cost per student for PARCC?


  5. Stanley Voedisch

    This approach will lead to streaming the students which will create a two track system and prematurely determine their futures in society. Those who have an aptitude for higher learning will be guided in that direction and the others will be groomed for industrial work. Call this view cynical if you want, but it is the plain and simple truth. This elitist idea will only compound the problems that No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top have caused. It will continue to cost many excellent teachers their careers, lower the over all performances of the students and ultimately destroy public education.

    PARCC is a horrible plan!


  6. I don;t believe it is paranoid. I do believe that teachers should not be micromanaged and let them teach based on subject matter, but NOT based on what test they HAVE to pass. I overheard some teachers talking at breakfast in a hotel and asked about assessments. They said there is little time left to actually teach anything but how to pass the test? The market for educational products and services is a multi-billion dollar industry. The Attorney General of NY has started an investigation of Pearsons
    As an aside look at the School lunch lobby.
    When there is big money, there is big corruption. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has declared corporations the rights of an individual which probably effectively ends any change of lobbying reform


  7. I just took my 6th grade ELA students (11/12 year olds) through a PARCC practice test. There are readings (just like the MCAS in Mass) and related questions, but I found the questions confusing in some cases, and the correct answers so closely aligned that as a class we entered into heated discussions about why half the class chose one answer and half the class chose another. Not a good sign. There are two parts to most questions, Part A & Part B. Part B’s correct answer depends on whether the student answered Part A correctly – really not fair in my opinion. Each question should stand on it’s own merit. I thought the test was pitched a too high for a 6th grader – for example, three (high school) words that have a similar spelling were presented (like confront, conform, control), and students had to choose which one meant what. PARCC wants to purposefully confuse you and see if you can jump through the hoop. There were two essay responses, which for some 6th graders might be a challenge – one essay is quite enough in my opinion. All in all, I liked the readings, enjoyed the debate the test elicited from my class, but would not trust this test to demonstrate what my students know. Very middle class assessment, disappointing. I would like to see an assessment that offers students many different ways to show what they know. This test felt like a booby trap. Good if you know, but double repercussions if you just couldn’t figure out Part A.. Then we decided to briefly look at the math test – what an outrageous test, full of lingo pitched too high for middle schoolers, very abstract and formulaic, the kids are pretty much asked to write their own numerical expressions. There were few straightforward concrete math problems, limiting correct answers to only word problems. Again, not a variety of ways to show what you know.
    ****Hopefully, the PARCC will be rejected in Massachusetts!****


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