Howard County schools excel on PARCC exam, as it begins its final year

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Howard County schools, which maintained a top performing status on the annual rigorous statewide math and English assessments, will soon tackle a new test.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, known as PARCC, has been criticized as too disruptive and too time-consuming to the school schedule, will be phased out statewide at the end of the current school year.

“Mainly the backlash around PARCC is length … it’s about a seven- to nine-hour assessment when you take the two subject areas,” said Tim Guy, coordinator of student assessment for the school system. “Seven to nine hours of instructional time that is lost.”

The school system has mainly seen backlash surrounding the state assessment from parents and teachers, according to Brian Bassett, county schools spokesman.

Two PARCC assessments, the Algebra I and the 10th grade English exam, are used as graduation requirements for the school system.

The state is looking to build a new assessment that directly aligns to the Common Core standards, and is overall a shorter exam, according to Guy. In 2010, dozens of states adopted Common Core standards, which are sets of skills students are expected to master in math and English in each grade level. In 2009, the Common Core standards were established by state school chiefs and governors from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The new test will not be ready until the 2019-2020 school year, as the state seeks bids from contractors to design the assessment. However, the new test will continue to assess students in grades three through eight in math and English and in 10th grade for English, just as PARCC does. All students will take the Algebra I exam after completing the course in school, which can range from seventh grade for advanced students or as late as ninth grade.

Howard County students exceeded the state averages in all testing categories of the spring 2018 PARCC test, with scores ranging 14 to 26 percent over the average.

“Overall we are pleased [and] always looking for growth and kids to make progress over the prior year,” said Dawn Pipkin, who represents the teachers’ union on the local testing committee. The joint committee is comprised of representatives of the Howard County Education Association and the school system.

“The best way we can prepare students for great assessments [results] is great teaching,” Pipkin said. “ And great teaching trumps everything.”

The current assessment is not focused on students memorizing facts but rather synthesizing information and writing about it, Guy said.

As an example, students are not asked, “What is the state capital of Maryland,” but rather something along the terms of, “Was Annapolis a good choice as the state capital,” according to Guy.

While the county scores were above state average, there were dips in students’ progress from the previous year’s assessment.

For example, both in Howard and statewide, the percentage of students scoring a 4 or 5, which is considered passing, for both the 10th grade English and Algebra I assessments, dropped in the 2017-2018 test year.

On the 2018 Algebra I assessment, 57 percent of county students received a 4 or 5 score, while in 2017, 62.6 percent of students performed that well, according to school data. For the 10th grade English test, nearly 61 percent of students scored the higher levels, a dip from the 65.2 percent of students who scored it in 2017.

The school system saw dips in certain scores because if students did not reach a level 3 in 2017 on the Algebra I or the 10th grade English exam, they took the assessment again in January 2018, according to Bill Barnes, chief academic officer for the school system.

The 2018 results reflect both of the scores the students received — their failing and passing score. This year’s results were the first to reflect students who re-took an exam they previously failed in 2017.

“The new assessment is going to be as rigorous as the current assessment … [but] our students are prepared for whatever comes next,” Barnes said.

“I also think it’s going to be important for whatever the new test is, is it doesn’t impede on instructional time and is a good match to the expectations of the students,” Pipkin said.

The teachers’ union advocated for the More Learning, Less Testing Act, a bill that limits schools to spending 2 percent of instructional time on required tests mandated by the federal government, the state or school district, Pipkin said. It does not cover teacher assessments, Pipkin said. The bill was approved by the Maryland House of Delegates in 2017.

So far, an acronym, MCAP, which stands for Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program, has been announced for the new test.

The state will spend another $11 million to administer the PARCC test in the spring.

With reporting from The Baltimore Sun

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jnocera@baltsun.com

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