University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

We Are Listening…

In The View from the OEP on February 24, 2015 at 8:57 am

listenThe OEP is thrilled that readers are paying attention to our essays and blog posts. Indeed, when one reader recently voiced the opinion that our last post indicated we are “out of touch” and suggested that we are ignoring the detrimental results of testing, we got to thinking … perhaps we should be a bit more clear and thorough in describing our views on testing … please read on and see for yourself if you share our views!

Dear [OEP Blog Follower]:

We appreciate you sharing your thoughts about the PARCC testing OpEd with us, and hear your frustration. There is a lot of discussion right now about Common Core and PARCC, standards and assessment and it can be very emotional. The best thing we can do as adults in the situation is have professional, respectful dialogue about what is best for kids. In that vein, we do not agree with your assertion that we are out of touch- I have been a public school classroom teacher for years, have children in public schools, and just left a position with a large Arkansas school district where I was Assessment Director and District Test Coordinator. As district test coordinator I was deeply involved in getting students, teachers and schools prepared for PARCC, and have gone through in-depth PARCC training and provided it to staff. I recognize that PARCC is a big change for students and teachers, but when I get frustrated with all the craziness, I remind myself that the school accountability movement sprang from a desire to ensure that ALL students were being provided excellent education opportunities. I am not convinced we have reached this goal in Arkansas, and I am sure that, like me, you advocate for those students who depend on their local public school for the opportunity to learn.

As you know, the PARCC assessments have been in development for several years, and Arkansas teachers have been very involved in the process. Arkansas decided at the outset to be a PARCC governing state, ensuring that our teachers would be at the table at every stage of the assessment development. We know several teachers who have written items, evaluated the alignment to the state adopted Common Core standards, and participated in the final approval or denial of items as well. Our state has done an admirable job of letting teacher voices be heard throughout PARCC development.

Arkansas and its teachers have invested a lot of money and time into the development of PARCC, but none of us know yet what the results will show. Comparison of ACTAAP proficiency in relation to other national assessments indicated that students scoring at around the 30th percentile nationally were proficient on ACTAAP! Given that the relative national performance for proficiency was so low, we expect proficiency rates will drop considerably on the PARCC. We see this change as beneficial for Arkansas students! Arkansas needed to raise the expectations so we can be sure students are prepared to be successful in college and careers.

While we pointed out that there are several assessments that could be used for our students, PARCC is the only one that Arkansas teachers have helped develop that measures the standards that Arkansas students have been being taught. It is also the one that the state has entered into a contract with. Other assessments, like ACT, SAT, ITBS and NWEA, can provide valuable information, but do not directly measure the grade-level standards Arkansas teachers are teaching because they are norm-referenced against a national population. Since education is a state responsibility, Arkansas chooses to administer a criterion-referenced test that measures Arkansas grade-level standards, and PARCC is the assessment that has been developed, with Arkansas teacher input, to do just that.

As we indicated in the article, we do not like to have students missing instructional time for assessment, but do feel like high quality assessment is a valuable part of the learning process because it provides feedback to students, teachers and administrators about how students are progressing. We appreciate that the PARCC means less testing time each day for students and less testing time overall than the benchmark and EOC exams. It has the potential to be a more efficient assessment than ACTAAP, and one that provides students opportunities to demonstrate their learning over time as opposed to a snapshot of one day or one week.

Like you and many others around the state, we were concerned that issues with technology equipment or experience would interfere with the measurement of actual student understanding. The field test from PARCC last spring included the administration of items in both electronic and paper-pencil format. There were not significant differences in student performance on the items based on the format, indicating that the technology interface was not having a significant impact on students’ ability to communicate what they know. We can’t be sure that the assessments will or will not measure student understanding- we will have to wait until the results come out and compare them with other information we know about the students.

We know there are significant challenges with implementing PARCC, but we support it for Arkansas students, at least for this year. We need to honor the work that Arkansas teachers have put into developing the assessment and preparing students. While still standards-based, we believe the increased difficulty of the PARCC questions are a step up for Arkansas students. We hope you have a smooth testing season and appreciate the work you do for [your] students.

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