Md. should join other states in shunning PARCC testing

Gov. Larry Hogan could untangle Baltimore County Public Schools officials from their technology quagmire by simply eliminating the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing (PARCC) they use to justify their obsession with one-to-one devices.

Shout from the rooftops for all parents, students and taxpayers of Maryland to hear: “PARCC can go and Maryland’s federal funding remains!” And then ask us if we want to continue to invest money, instructional time and technology on PARCC.

Back in 2015, the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) freed Maryland from the PARCC assessment, expressly forbidding federal control over academic instruction, standards and assessments. Congress also intentionally eliminated certain accountability and testing requirements because they led to waste and abuse, a reckless pace of curriculum change, grading policy manipulation and questionable relationships with technology companies and for-profit educational consultants.

Does no one acknowledge this because PARCC is the driver of our prestigious relationships with for-profit educational and technology companies? As the testing program grew, so did the power, importance, staffing and budgets of such institutions, which don’t directly teach children.

For decades, the education establishment has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from K-12 classrooms to technology companies and educational researchers who see public education as a market — including Pearson, which runs the PARCC test and has a multi-milion-dollar contract with BCPS. Although these experts have little or no K-12 classroom experience, Annapolis and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) gave them the keys to the lockboxes and put them in control of our schoolhouses. Local superintendents followed the lead of the state.

Over the past five years, hundreds of thousands of Maryland students were taken out of instruction to “pilot” PARCC as test-development lab rats. And Pearson has become more and more dependent on Maryland to keep their stock price afloat as other states have jettisoned PARCC. In 2016, the company reported its largest ever pre-tax loss of nearly $3.2 billion.

Meanwhile, Maryland came to Pearson’s rescue by disrupting public schools with a testing window from Dec. 5th through June 8th for PARCC, along with the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment and the High School Assessment tests. During testing days, students are given substitutes in the classroom so that their teachers can proctor exams; libraries are closed and turned into testing sites, and computer and science classes are displaced so that the labs can also be used for testing.

We could have replaced most of those 123 days set aside for potential assessment testing — out of 180 school days total — with a simple, well-established assessment like the California Achievement Test, which takes about 2.5 hours to complete and is given in grades three through eight and once in high school.

But instead, MSDE allowed for a collective 54 million hours of instructional time to be used over the past three years to give state-mandated Pearson tests, requiring the use of most school computers. All Maryland got in exchange were some numbers to enter on a state-mandated report, the data from which were published in the Baltimore Sun months after the tests were over.

Many students sat for tests multiple times until they passed, even though passing was not required for graduation; our taxes pay Pearson for each test given.

Nobody disapproves of keeping public schools accountable; of course they must succeed in educating students. But the accountability ought to be more meaningful than PARCC. And the cost/benefit analysis should be a little more convincing, too.

With a simpler assessment, the instructional time and resources could be given back to the students.

Governor Hogan, the General Assembly and MSDE must either justify their support for PARCC or eliminate the PARCC tomorrow. If they don’t, then someone else will next November.

Jonathan Roland (publiceducationrocksmd@yahoo.com) is a public school teacher and a past Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

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