While no standardized test can ever truly measure all that a child has learned or can do, the new Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam represents a vast improvement over the Maryland School Assessments (MSA). Both teachers and students are ready for this welcome shift.
As a middle school English teacher in Baltimore County, I participated in the PARCC English Language Arts field test this year. Students were adequately prepared for the PARCC assessment. All year, the English teachers have been delivering curriculum that is fully aligned with Common Core and designed to prepare students to be successful on PARCC. In addition, students participating in the field test completed a PARCC tutorial, which allowed them to familiarize themselves with the format of the test and the resources available to them. Teachers involved in the field testing were fully trained on how to administer the test. The field test allows test developers to make changes and receive feedback before PARCC is fully implemented next year.
The test itself is a more authentic measure of student achievement. Each multiple choice question on PARCC has two parts — one that requires students to select an answer, similar to MSA, and a second that requires students to select the evidence supporting their answer choice. This addition of a second part helps measure students' thought processes rather than just their ability to simply fill in the correct bubble, regardless of whether or not they know why that answer is correct. In addition, the PARCC assessment includes interactive technology items which require students to actively manipulate text, such as dragging and dropping details to form a coherent summary. These tasks demand more critical thinking than the traditional multiple choice questions.
PARCC also involves extended written responses, including questions requiring synthesis and narrative writing. Students are no longer confined to a small box in which they must develop an answer; the answer box on PARCC has no limit. This allows students to demonstrate more sophisticated thinking and writing than was ever allowed on MSA, which did not include much writing.
In addition to the question types, PARCC makes several resources available to students on the computer based test, such as a highlighting tool, incorrect answer strikeout, a glossary of terms and a read-aloud function. In today's world where students have almost unlimited access to resources such as these in their daily lives, it does not make sense to deny them access to these aids in a testing environment. In fact, the ability to use such resources appropriately is an important skill that standardized tests should measure. Again, PARCC improves on MSA, which did not offer all resources to students unless they were enrolled in a special education or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.
The more rigorous nature of PARCC will mean that results will not be comparable to those of MSA. The percentage of students scoring in the proficient range on PARCC is likely to be lower at the outset of implementation.
It is my hope that this does not cause people to give up on the test or write off the Common Core standards. Ultimately, this test is a more authentic assessment of student learning, which requires critical thinking, allows for divergent thought processes and provides students with appropriate resources.
We need to give students and teachers time to rise to these expectations. It is a step in the right direction for our education system, and this teacher welcomes the change with open arms.
Amanda Hughes is an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at Lansdowne Middle School in Baltimore County. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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