Run for your lives! It’s the PARCC test!
With less than one week to go before PARCCageddon, a good percentage of the local population – students, parents, teachers – is hunkering down for the latest state-mandated test designed to bring “standards” and “reform” to Illinois classrooms.
PARCC – it stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – is a child of the digital 21st century and, unlike previous state-mandated tests, will be primarily administered via computers. Great idea! We all know that nothing can ever go wrong with computers.
Testing begins Feb. 25. That’s when the first of two windows, each two weeks long, opens for the first-ever PARCC exam. Public school students in third through 12th grade will be taking the test and I wish them the best. They’ll need it.
In a Feb. 10 Chronicle story, my colleague Marilyn Thomas described how Homewood School District 153 Board of Education member Tom Brabec volunteered to take a portion of the PARCC test at last week’s school board meeting. Brabec – I have met him and he is as sharp as they come – agreed to take a three-part math practice test, on the computer, that’s designed for a third-grader.
“Watching his actions on the overhead projector, no one in the room found it to be laughing matter,” the story says. “Brabec first calculated an answer (part 1), and then struggled to make a chart in which he had to shade in 56 squares (part 2). It was time consuming and it was finally agreed that he could move to part 3.
“He was able to use paper and pencil to come to his part 3 answer. Then the equation was typed into the computer.”
Did I mention that the test is timed? And students are supposed to go back and forth between multiple computer screens?
As I understand PARCC, the test was written to follow the new national Common Core curriculum standards, and to measure not just what students know, but how they think. It looks to me, though, that this is an exercise in multi-tasking.
Here’s what it brings to mind (and this might show you how my mind works). You go to the doctor’s office for a checkup and he tells you to hop on one foot. You start hopping. Then he tells you to juggle three balls. So you juggle. Finally, he tells you to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
With this test, I believe we have arrived at “The Star-Spangled Banner” phase of state-mandated testing. Illinois has been at it for nearly 25 years, so much so that yearly IGAP and then ISAT assessments became the most important undertaking during the entire school year. All that testing and it was overwhelmingly inconclusive and did little to improve our schools.
This is how bad it has gotten: Our two local grade school superintendents — Dale Mitchell in District 153 and Craig Doster in Flossmoor District 161 — took the extraordinary step of writing letters to their communities questioning the value of the tests. They are concerned that PARCC could have several negative effects, with little payoff. They say it will take students away from valuable instructional time.
Here are two things I noticed right away about PARCC. First, that the test will be given to third graders; that, to me, means 8-year-olds. Second, that it is designed to measure “readiness” for “college and careers.”
I don’t want to give away my age. But let’s just say that I was a third grader in 1957. Back then, “careers” in Chicago might have involved U.S. Steel’s South Works or the Union Stock Yards. In finance, it might mean the First National Bank of Chicago or the Continental Bank of Illinois. In journalism, ultimately my chosen trade, there was the Chicago Daily News. They were all great institutions, and they have all gone the way of the wooly mammoth.
Today’s third graders won’t graduate from college for another 13 years. PARCC can only test readiness for today’s jobs. It certainly can’t predict what jobs will exist in 2028.
In the meantime, here’s what we’ve got:
Hop. Juggle. “Oh, Say Can You See…”