Tuesday, February 17, 2015

“I Support the PARCC Tests”

Written by Administrator Andrea Townsend with the support of Greenville City School's Central Office...

I feel the need to make an unpopular statement of my opinion. Here goes… I support the new statewide tests. The new statewide tests developed by PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) are a series of high quality, computer-based K-12 assessments in Math and Language Arts. I know that my lack of disdain for these assessments may shock some readers. It is shocking because I work for Greenville City Schools in the capacity of coordinating services for students with special needs. It may also be shocking because I am a parent of two elementary school students who will be subjected to these tests in the coming weeks. As a result, the new PARCC tests have occupied a great deal of my personal and professional time over the last calendar year in preparation. Despite this fact, I support PARCC and let me tell you why.

Educators and legislators in our state adopted new standards to guide the instruction for public schools several years ago. These standards are focused on the skills students need to be successful in college or their career or both. The standards look at critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as developing a student’s ability communicate clearly. These skills are paramount to success in our ever changing, global and technology driven world. As an educator, I am passionate about preparing each of our students for success even after graduation. As a parent, I dream about my children developing all of the skills that allow them to pursue any path in life that they choose. The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires that states use tests to measure achievement, but with new instructional standards, it seems unfair to use a test aligned to the previous standards. According to the PARCConline.org website, “The new tests also are being developed in response to the longstanding concerns of educators, parents and employers who want assessments that better measure students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and their ability to communicate clearly.” It is more fair to use a test that is closely aligned with the instruction. This is just the first reason I support the PARCC tests.

Students come to school with a great deal of diversity. As a parent I can see the dramatic differences among the two children in my home. As an educator, I see documented needs of students that vary widely. Every student deserves equal access to instruction in the skills they will need for success in the future. For these reasons we utilize tools such as Individual Education Programs as well as Written Education Plans for gifted students to meet the differing needs during instruction. Consequently, we will need a test that can evaluate students with a wide range of abilities. PARCC is using Universal Design principles to make the new tests as accessible as possible to all students. According to the PARCConline.org website,
“It is important to ensure that performance in the classroom and on the assessment is influenced as little as possible by a student’s disability or linguistic/cultural characteristics that are unrelated to the content being assessed. For PARCC assessments, accommodations are adjustments to the testing situation, test format, or test administration that provide equitable access during assessments for students with disabilities, students who are English learners, and students with disabilities who are also English learners.”
This approach to providing students with the tools they need to interact with the test in the way that best suits them is new to standardized tests in Ohio. This is yet another reason I support PARCC tests.

Acquiring skills begins with a clear understanding of two things. First we must clearly understand what skill we want. Second we must clearly understand the skills we already have. When we have those two pieces of information, we are able to learn, practice and apply skills between those we have and those we want. It is important in education that we have the clearest understanding of the skills each student has and the skills each student needs. According to PARCConline.org, PARCC will report results that include whether students can read and comprehend a range of complex texts independently, whether students can write effectively when using and/or analyzing sources, and whether students can build and present knowledge through research and the comparison and synthesis of ideas. PARCC will also be able to report students’ ability to demonstrate fluency in key areas and to solve problems using mathematical practices, mathematical reasoning and modeling. As a parent, I want to know that I have done all I can to give my children all the skills they need. As an educator, I need to address the skills between the ones my students have and the ones they need. The information PARCC will report will give a more complete measurement of students’ skills. And here is another reason why I support PARCC tests.

I can honestly say that the process of making this transition has been challenging for all who are involved. I also know that change itself is challenging. Hardworking teachers and school administrators in this community and across the state have spent countless hours reading administration manuals, rethinking instruction and preparing students for the change in testing format. A great deal of time has been lost to making this shift. The focus of our work as educators seems to have been skewed lately to an emphasis on testing when our hearts want to be focused on high quality instruction. This fact must be addressed as we move forward with the
new testing format so that students, parents and teachers feel confident in their ability to support students as they demonstrate important skills. The overall goal of the new statewide tests is to measure critical thinking, problem solving and effective communication skills of students across our state in a way that is engaging and accessible to all students. I do not like the drain these tests have had on our most precious resource: time with students. I do not like everything about this change, but I support the PARCC tests.

I support the PARCC tests and I am not alone. I am proud that some educators in our district are opting in to the PARCC tests. Mr. Aaron Shaffer recently commented on facebook with his perspective on the PARCC.
“I can assure you, as an educator, we are worried about this test too. However, it has more to do with the uncertainties that come with the newness of the test. Everyone is more comfortable with things they are familiar with. When proficiency testing started 20 years ago there were concerns. Likely very similar to the concerns many people are having now. Our students can and will do well. If they don't we can look at why, develop plans to improve, and get them to where they need to go. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, relax a little, and see how we do. Few people have concerns about their children participating in sports, dance, etc. They are tested in those areas regularly in the form of games and competitions. Those games and competitions are evaluated and practices are planned to address areas of concern. This testing is no different. Test day is game day. But please, don't misinterpret this comment as total support for this test. But our children will be tested one way or another. That's just the way it is.”
If you would like to know more about PARCC assessments please visit www.parcconline.org, http://education.ohio.gov , or www.greenville.k12.oh.us

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