While a modest reduction in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing hours, announced last week, is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough to address the many problems of the new online, high-stakes standardized assessment.
PARCC has doubled the amount of testing time in schools across the state. It has forced a massive reallocation of resources that took teachers out of classrooms and cost students valuable instructional time. For the first month of PARCC testing in April, our three schools alone lost more than 300 instructional hours. In order to free up enough teachers to administer PARCC, we posit that students across the city had thousands of special education service hours replaced by testing. This theft of instruction is happening again throughout May, month two of testing.
In addition to such a staggering loss of instruction, students also confronted persistent technological problems affecting the validity of the test. In many cases students had to wait in silence for up to an hour for testing programs to be ready. Among a host of other issues, students in one fourth- and fifth- grade class were forced to deal with difficulties selecting or "dragging and dropping" answers 50 times. They had some or all of their typed responses moved or deleted 53 times. This same group also endured unwanted scrolling or highlighting of text 34 times. These problems will not be fixed by a limited reduction in testing.
Perhaps the most disturbing consequence of PARCC is its effect on children.
During testing we had to stand by and watch as children, frustrated by technical problems and flustered by the vague and unnecessarily complicated language of the test, furrowed their brows or broke down crying. In some cases, children even slapped their own heads in frustration. If left in place, PARCC will continue turning all kids — even the highly engaged ones — off.
PARCC testing has had a profoundly negative impact on schools, real teaching and learning, and children. This experience in our schools does not match the "smooth," "so far, so good" rollout of PARCC, as city schools officials described the launch in a March Baltimore Sun article. At best, that claim was a distortion of the facts. At worst, it feels like a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.
Speak to teachers and educators in every sector of the city — the ones who don't have the official microphone of Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore Teachers Union, or the Maryland State Department of Education — and you will hear first hand about the myriad problems of PARCC. Even the multi-state consortium that governs PARCC implicitly acknowledged that implementation was far from smooth by slightly scaling back testing for next year.
As professional educators we all recognize the value and importance of high-quality assessment as a way to understand both what our students have learned and what we still need to help them with. PARCC does not meet this standard. Instead, it has cost our district and our students vast sums of money, robbed them of a significant percentage of instructional time and caused severe, undue distress to children who should be developing a love for school and learning rather than fear, anxiety and resentment toward them.
Rather than continuing to pour our limited resources into a test that is so obviously flawed in both design and implementation, we should be putting our time, money, and effort into classrooms so that teachers can teach, students can learn and we can create great schools together. We must now be doing everything we can to repeal, repel and revoke PARCC — completely — for the sake of our children and our schools.
Robert Dietzen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a teacher at City Neighbors Hamilton; 52 other educators from the three City Neighbors charter schools also contributed to this piece.