Monday, March 9, 2015

an equation for PARCC: acceptance does not equal approval

The PARCC tests kicked off in Colorado (and around the nation) this past week. While there have been notable instances of opt-out (82% of students at Fairview High School opted not to take the test), the majority of Colorado students will sit through the PARCC exams this spring.

Some people believe that means the tests are working. The Denver Post reported this past weekend on the testing roll-out, including this line:
State officials offered a pencil-and-paper option to districts on all math tests and third-grade English PARCC tests. Only about 15 percent of Colorado students will use that option, which Hawley said indicates broad support for online tests.
As I wrote last week, paper-and-pencil math PARCC tests are infeasible for some schools, particularly at the higher levels, because of the calculator requirements.  Consequently, the decision to use computers doesn't inherently demonstrate approval.

My other concern about this statement is that the state might try to use low opt-out rates as evidence that the testing is widely accepted. This would be inaccurate, but not unprecedented. State officials repeatedly used low opt-out rates on the CSAP and TCAP tests as "proof" that students and parents approved of the test.

Of course, some students take the PARCC tests even if they don't believe it's a good idea. Some schools coerce students into taking the tests. We've heard from students who were informed the testing would be tied to graduation, or it would hurt their college chances if they chose to opt out. Other students also take the tests not because they approve but out of loyalty to their schools.

Furthermore, statements about the benefits of computer use might want to wait until the testing has completed; thus far, the technology has been far from perfect. The majority of students in Colorado (roughly 85%) are taking the tests on the computer. While many schools haven't had technology issues, some have. Per the Denver Post:
But when it really counted, students at Sheridan High trying to log into the testing system got one of those frustrating hourglasses that just keep spinning and spinning, Clough said.
Within an hour, five kids were able to log into the system, he said. Within two hours, maybe 50 percent of students were able to start. Most were able to get in within three hours, but in other instances the test would not properly function once students were able to log in and begin taking it, Clough said.
Stories like this exacerbate the many concerns that testing is taking to much time. And given these issues, to say that there is "broad support" for online tests is simply far-fetched.

-Jessica Piper. If you have questions, leave a comment below or ask me on twitter: @jpiper303.

We'll have more on PARCC testing as the month continues.

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