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Jersey Jazzman: Is the PARCC Really Worth All This Bother?

There's a good discussion of PARCCgate, based on my post from Saturday, going on at Blue Jersey (which regularly reposts my stuff --thanks Rosi!). Bob Braun also expands on his original post, the one that started all this, with a new story from East Hanover. Turns out Pearson Education, the  company that makes the PARCC, is at work across the state, monitoring and reporting on student social media activity that they believe compromised the security of their test.

One thing that's been left out of the discussion is just how big a change PARCC is for New Jersey High Schools. Prior to this year, students only had two state tests to take between their freshman and senior years: a Grade 9 biology exam, and the HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment), a Grade 11 general test of knowledge.

It's safe to say that for college-bound New Jersey students, the HSPA was considered to be a bit of a joke. I've heard stories over the years of kids playing games with the tests, like trying to get as many flavors of ice cream as possible into your writing example ("Life may have many rocky roads..."). But there are so many other measures of high school performance -- graduation rates, SAT/ACT participation rates and scores, AP rates, etc. -- that HSPA performance was not a big worry for suburban schools.

PARCC, however, is now a required test for students in high school algebra, geometry, and English language arts. Some districts have stopped giving their own final and midterm assessments in place of the PARCC; however, I'm hearing some schools aren't using the test scores as part of the grade for the student. So it's likely that the motivation for students to do well is all over the map, making meaningful comparisons between schools impossible.

I don't see how PARCC at the high school level can be considered a valid assessment of school or teacher or even student performance given these realties. Which gets us back to the core question in all this: is PARCC worth all this bother?

We're now at the point where a private, foreign-owned corporation is actively monitoring students and colluding with a governmental agency to prompt school districts into punishing students if they discuss test items or post picture of them on line. This is going to require an active, on-going system of monitoring students' social media use, plus the acquiescence of parents in suppressing the free speech rights of their children.

Schools are now going to have to mete out punishments for activities that were largely considered innocuous just a few years ago when they took place away from social media. I always used to ask older kids about the finals for classes they took the previous year: "No, he won't test you on that, but you have to know this." Teachers themselves often use last year's tests as practice exams, or give examples of exemplars for homework assignments.

Isn't this what we want? Don't we want the kids talking about their learning? Obviously we don't want them Instagramming pictures of tests before everyone has taken them, but what is wrong with doing so afterward? Why wouldn't we encourage this?

If you're Pearson, the answer is obvious: it affects your bottom line. You can't reuse questions after they've been published, so you have to spend more money to create more items. But where is the evidence that their tests are any better than local assessments anyway? I haven't seen it; in fact, even the PARCC people admit they don't know if the results of their tests vary with the quality of instruction students receive.

We know that high school grades do as good a job in predicting college success as any standardized test. So why do we need the PARCC to be given 12 times during a high school student's career (and that number will probably go up), accompanied by an intrusive security protocol? Why not use standardized tests appropriately as accountability measures, with correct sampling techniques and as measures that inform, as opposed to mandate, decisions?

Why are we making life so complicated for our schools and our students when it has never been shown that there are any benefits from administering the PARCC?


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Jersey Jazzman

Jersey Jazzman is the pseudonym for Mark Weber, a New Jersey public school teacher and parent. He is the Special Analyst for Education Policy at the New Jer...