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The problem with PARCC: Children should not be leaving standardized tests in tears

The author of the Baltimore Sun's editorial, "No 'pause button' for PARCC" (March 13) seems puzzled by a growing number of parents questioning the use of this controversial assessment. As the testing coordinator at a Baltimore City public elementary/middle school, perhaps my direct experience can provide some insight into why this test is so troubling.

I understand the use of standardized testing as a way of assessing students. What I don't understand is the purpose of the PARCC. I have watched class after class come in happy and ready for testing to watch them leave defeated and some in tears. My breaking point was when one of the most engaged students, who always comes to school to do her best, left my testing room in tears after finishing a math section. She asked me why it was so hard; I had no answer. This bright student is on grade level according to several other reliable measures. I had 7th grader so angry about the questions that she wrote an essay to Pearson (the company that produces the test) on her last math question. Again, this is a student who is working above her grade level who gave up on this test. But for students who struggle, they are desperate for the testing to be over, and I watch their confidence and self esteem plummet. I have seen anger, defeat, frustration, tears and students just giving up. No child should ever leave a testing situation with these feelings. I need to repeat that it is not just one or two students; this is majority of my students.

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Debates about the developmental appropriateness of this test aside, the technology issues alone are enough to warrant a closer look at PARCC. There are so many glitches and hoops to jump through to keep the test running. The test will randomly shut down, resulting in a having to restart the main computer so the student can log in again. This interrupts the student's thought process and causes anxiety. There is also a programming issue with using JAVA. The test can only run using a certain version of JAVA and if it is updated, the test won't run. Why the programmers haven't fixed this is beyond me. If JAVA does get updated, that testing computer is no longer available for testing until tech support can be called.

On the first go round with the language part of the test we did not pay close attention to whether the sound button was on or not for the main group of testers (since they did not have the text to speech option available to them). Much to our surprise there is a video portion of the test for some of the students. My favorite part is that we couldn't just turn the sound on; we had to log the student out of the test, turn the sound back on, and then resume the test.

This got me thinking about how this is equitable. How can you assess a child who has watched a video versus a child that has read a passage? (I should now point out that the text the students read are generally 2 grade levels above where they should be.) Then, if this test is used again next year, if the same child does not get videos again, you cannot accurately assess their growth because the test parameters will be different.

Also, the online tools are beyond frustrating. If the student does not click the box in exactly the right spot the answer does not register — it doesn't matter the size of the box — if you don't click the upper left corner, the drag and drop won't stay. I have seen the students clicking and clicking until they hit the "sweet" spot.

Once this go round is done, we have a couple of weeks off, and then we do it all over again. The students will sit for another 7 to 8 hours of testing. I cannot image that they will be inclined to do their best. The damage being done to these students for a test that won't count for anything is unconscionable. I wish public school funding was not tied to this so we could opt out and use an assessment that would accurately measure growth. I do not feel comfortable torturing the students with this misguided, poorly constructed "test."

As I sit here and reflect after administering the PARCC for the 13th day, I find that I am having an extremely difficult time convincing myself to come in again tomorrow and do it all over again.

Wendy Boyer, Baltimore

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