I am an educator and a parent with daughters in the 7th and 8th grades in the Macomb Public Schools. Like many others schools - although not all - throughout the nation, Macomb schools will be administering the PARRC exam this month to its students.
PARRC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and is supposed to measure whether students are on track to be successful in their future endeavors. On the surface this sounds like a good idea, but this assessment is riddled with problems. Let me outline just a few of them for you.
First, the Macomb Public School system switched to Common Core standards in August 2013. The curriculum for math and reading along with social studies and science has all been focused on Common Core standards since this time.
This means that how teachers teach has been effected because of the implementation of the PARCC exam. Students and teachers alike have complained about lost teaching time because of time needed to prepare for the exam. Preparation includes multiple webinars, paperwork, and workshops outlining how to take the computer test. These new skills needed to successfully complete the assessment are acquired during the course of a normal school day.
In our school district teachers have had to shorten units on the Holocaust and the Civil War because of the time needed to prepare for and administer these exams. My own 8th grader came home furious when she heard that they would no longer have time to read and discuss “The Diary of Anne Frank” before their 8th grade trip to the Holocaust museum in Skokie, IL.
In all fairness when this was brought to the attention of the school board by Holly Stovall, the book miraculously reappeared on their reading lists. But how many other great books and learning experiences are our children missing out on because of this assessment?
This leads me to my second point – the cultural boundedness of this type of learning assessment. Standardized tests are culturally biased, and by that I mean that they reflect only what those who write the exams think is important to know. They are not measures of intelligence or one’s future success. I am a perfect example of a student who came from a rural public school system with limited means but outstanding teachers. While I couldn’t tell you who Antigone was and took typing instead of computers; this didn’t prohibit me from obtaining an outstanding education at both. In fact, if I had to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) now I am quite certain that would fail and never would have earned my PhD in Anthropology.
My third point. Do you know who owns the companies that write and administer both the GRE and PARRC exams? It’s Pearson, a British multi-national conglomerate, and is one of the largest private businesses in the U.S. educational sector. In 2011 the company had net earnings of $1.5 billion dollars generating approximately 60% of its sales in North America. Oh, and did you know that Pearson also certifies teachers in Illinois, New York and other states at the tune of $300 per exam?
One of the questions we need to be asking is who is qualified to determine who teaches our children, what our students learn and how we measure whether or not they have mastered the information. A bit of research on the key players of Pearson uncovered some not so nice information on their business practices. But, that is the topic of another commentary.
The last point I want to make deals with the amount of testing time each student will spend sitting in front of a computer. There are 9 modules that students are required to complete amounting to 15 ½ hours for a traditional student. Let me say that again. 15 ½ hours in front of a computer. Students who receive extended time accommodations could receive up to one full day per exam. According to Mikkel Storaasli, Assistant
Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Leyden High Schools near O’Hare Airport, that’s nine full days of testing for students with some of the greatest needs.
I am not opposed to testing, I get it. After all, I too am a teacher and know that I need to assess whether or not my students have mastered the material. But I also know that not all students learn the same way or show the knowledge they have mastered in the same manner.
There are numerous scholars who have written volumes on how we learn, and one model that makes the most sense to me is Neil Fleming’s VARK. VARK stands for visual learners; auditory learners; reading-writing preference learners; and kinesthetic or tactile learners.
The PARRC test is a reading based test, so what about those students who are struggling readers, or not native English speakers, or behind in math skills? Will these tests make them better readers? I doubt it. Will their math skills improve? Unlikely. Will it make them a better speaker of English? Improbable. And perhaps most importantly, will the teachers receive immediate information that will help guide instruction? Absolutely not.
My children will not be taking the PARCC exams when they are administered in Macomb. Instead they will sit quietly and respectfully learning by reading a book or two. As Mikkal Storaasli attested in front of the Illinois State Representatives on Feb. 25, 2015 “The amount of time students take testing is not learning. More testing is not more learning."
Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.