The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the standardized test known simply by its acronym, PARCC, provides quite the conundrum. Almost since it was first used in Maryland in 2015, it has been maligned by educators and politicians — not to mention students — for taking too much class time to prepare for, for taking too long to complete and for being too difficult. And, after a five-year run, PARCC is being replaced this school year by a series of tests, the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program or MCAP.

Yet PARCC has helped Carroll County students and, by extension, teachers, administrators and leaders, to be looked upon quite favorably, thanks to scores that have consistently ranked among the best in the state. This year was no exception as Carroll County Public Schools ranked No. 1 in math and second in English Language Arts among school systems in Maryland. That’s an incredible achievement, though it’s hard to do too much celebrating when barely more than half the kids taking the tests actually pass them.

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As Donna Sivigny, president of the Board of Education, told the county commissioners during a joint meeting on Thursday, even though Carroll ranks as the best school system in Maryland in terms of PARCC, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in terms of educating kids.

“I don’t really necessarily care how we compare to the rest of the state, I want our kids to be reading on grade level when they’re in elementary school,” Sivigny told the commissioners. “So those are the things we’re going to be stacking up against our strategic plan and saying, OK so we made good progress in a good number of areas, but some other areas we fell off on or didn’t make the amount of progress we expected. So we’re going to start digging into those and coming up with action plans.”

Throughout Maryland, PARCC scores were disappointing. Math scores were the worst since the first year of the test, with only about one-third of students passing. In terms of year over year, Carroll’s scores were relatively flat. But clearly, progress was shown in this county over the course of the test. After scores were released that first year, Gregg Bricca, then the director of research and accountability for CCPS, told us, “as we move forward we know that, for instance, the 46 percent or so who got a 4 and 5 in grade 3 ELA is not how we would expect our students to perform. ... We just now need to tweak so that we can have more students being successful as we move forward.”

It seems that was done. Whereas in 2015 not quite 50 percent of those in grades 3-8 passed the PARCC (by receiving a score of 4 or 5), this year, 60% passed in ELA — an increase of 2.5 percentage points over last year — and 53.4% passed math, a drop of 1.9 percentage points from last year. (Carroll saw its biggest year over year increases in Grade 10 ELA, rising 3.3 percentage points over last year to a total of 68% of students passing.)

CCPS was the top school system in the state for students passing Math grades 3-8 (and Algebra 1) but no school system in the state saw an increase in Math 3-8 passing percentages. Thus it is probably a good time to bid the PARCC farewell. The MCAP tests are expected to be shorter and cause less disruption, soon moving to a computer adaptive format, meaning that scoring is done as students take the tests and time won’t be wasted on questions they can clearly answer, quickly increasing in difficulty to arrive at a final score in a shorter period of time.

While we won’t be surprised if the percentage of students who pass the MCAPs goes up significantly, we are certain Carroll will continue to rank high in standardized testing given that the school system does quite well by various other measures, including the Maryland Report Card scoring system as well as attendance and graduation rates. That’s thanks, of course, to teachers, administrators and leaders, but also because of Carroll’s families, largely intact and supportive of education, giving students an advantage over many of their peers across the state.

And of vital importance going forward, CCPS leadership seems to recognize that good isn’t good enough.

“We celebrate the students that are [having] great success,” Supervisor of Elementary Education in Social Studies and Gifted and Talented Kendra Hart told us. "But we aren’t successful until all of our students are successful.”

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