Students try out new PARCC assessment

The educators at Marley Elementary School near Glen Burnie are a little worried about what may happen when their students receive the next generation of tests.

These new assessments have been billed as more challenging, but a room of fourth-graders practicing the test on computers Thursday morning seemed unfazed.

"The questions were more simple," said Elena Waller, 9, who will be one of the 65,000 students across the state to take a field test of the new PARCC assessments next week.

Elena, a slight girl with brown curls in a pony tail, said she doesn't believe the questions she has practiced were any harder for her than those on the Maryland School Assessment.

A classmate agreed. "Instead of reading through the whole [story], you can read through some of it and have the answers," said Cody Watson, 10.

As new, more rigorous Common Core standards were put in place last fall, the state began a switch from the MSAs that have been given since 2003 toward the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, being tried out in many states.

Unlike the old tests, given nearly entirely on paper and pencil, the new ones will be given primarily online. The PARCC will be taken by all students in grades three through eight in reading and math in March 2015.

While the Marley students are adept at playing games on a computer or a smartphone, said Jamie Ferguson, their fourth-grade teacher, they may not be as proficient at typing. Typing out a five-paragraph response to a question on the test is a lot for a fourth-grader, she said.

"I am concerned they may write less," Ferguson said.

In addition, she wonders if there might be glitches with the computers or the tests. At one point during the practice test, students came across a passage they couldn't access. The screen read "Permissions are pending for the passage."

But most Marley students were happy trying out the tools on the tests to get them ready for the real thing. "I like it because you can change the background color," said Ryan Moorman, 10.

They can now highlight in different colors, magnify the text, point and drag pieces of a paragraph to answer questions and manipulate a protractor and ruler across the screen. But when teachers saw a row of students all magnifying text, they immediately began imagining what might happen if students decided to play while taking the test.

"Next week when we take the PARCC assessment, it is all work," Kristen Addleman, a Marley teacher, quickly said to the students.

Principal Nina Lattimore said she will be curious to see how much of the test her students can complete.

"These questions are definitely higher-level," she said. "I think the first time 'round it is going to be an issue of time."

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