UPDATE March 6, 2014:
I had a moment to check the PARCC website today while eating lunch, and saw that the sample test questions appear to once again be available “in their intended environment.”
I urge you to go try them out for yourselves.
UPDATE March 4, 2014:
I went to try the assessments on the PARCC website again this morning. I discovered that although they still have webpages (linked below) that say that these materials are available to be tried, when I tried them I was taken to a page to download an iPad app. I downloaded the app, but I cannot run it without a username and a password, which I don’t have. I tried using “guest” and received an error message. There was also an option to bypass the iPad app download page and proceed online, so I tried that as well. When I did so, I was again taken to a login page, and prompted for a username and password. I again tried “guest” and was booted. As a result, it does not appear that as of now, other members of the public can replicate the experience we had with these materials this weekend. If they are fixing the problems, more power to them, I say.
I clicked on the “Contact Us” tab on PARCC’s webpage, and sent an email to PARCC regarding this issue. It is reproduced below. I will let you know if and when I receive a response.
BELOW IS MY ORIGINAL POST:
First, go watch the video.
Please, please, please do this now.
As I’ve previously written (and will write more), I have some concerns about the genesis of the Common Core and some quibbles about the details of what we’re asking of our students. But as I’ve also previously written, I am not “anti-Common Core,” and in fact, I think there is a lot of good to be said for establishing a floor-level of knowledge and skills that all of our students should have and be able to demonstrate. My concerns revolve around:
(1) whether that floor will become a ceiling;
(2) how we’re implementing our new Common Core;
(3) my quibbles about the details of what is and what is not covered (for instance, I tend to fall in the camp that would prefer that our kids learn to write in cursive, but I also acknowledge that reasonable minds may differ on this point, and if the democratic consensus is against teaching cursive, I am comfortable living with that — and supplementing at home as I see fit); and
(4) most critically, how we are measuring our children’s progress toward achieving the Common Core State Standards.
As I am sure the majority of my readers are aware, the ~46 states that have adopted the CCSS have joined one of two consortia for developing standardized tests intended to measure students’ progress toward meeting the CCSS standards. My state, New Jersey, has joined PARCC, which is the “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.” According to PARCC’s website, the 17 PARCC states (plus the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories) collectively educate about 22 million students. If my math is correct, that means that a year from now, when the PARCC assessments go online for all students in the 2014-2015 academic year, the PARCC assessments will be assessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-17 million children annually (22 million / 13 grades x 10 grades that are going to be subject to testing since testing doesn’t start until 3rd grade).
This spring (about two months from now), the PARCC field test will be administered to about one million students. As you may be aware, the PARCC tests are not the Number 2 pencil fill-in-the-bubble tests of our youth. Rather, these tests will be taken entirely online.
Sample question prototypes are currently available online through the PARCC website. The website has a link that allows you to, and I quote: “Try out sample test questions in their intended environment.”
So I did.
And I was frustrated. Immensely frustrated.
But then I realized that no one is going to care about my descriptions of my frustration with “the sample test questions in their intended environment.” But maybe someone will care about my daughter’s frustration. After all, she’s 9. She’s currently in third grade. She will be taking these tests a year from now. And she’s a good kid, she’s a strong student, and she is game to try new things.
So I asked her to try one of the sample questions. A few minutes in, when I got a sense of how frustrating the process was for her, I asked her permission to video her attempts to get the interface to work. She agreed, and hopefully the video is showing up here, because my description of how this process went can’t do it justice.
So that no one claims that I am gaming the system by not meeting technology specifications, etc., here is what I can tell you about what systems we are running, etc.:
I am not a tech-y type person, but I had her do this on an iPad3, I think it is. Maybe it’s an iPad 4. I’m honestly not sure. Anyway, my iPad is one that has 128G of storage and a lightning connector. I bought it in June of 2013. It is running the latest version of iOS 7 (iOS 7.0.6) (I checked). It is a wireless-only iPad, so I was using its wireless connection to connect to our home network, which is a Verizon Fios network with a Verizon-provided wireless router. I generally experience little-to-no lag on my iPad or home computer, and can stream movies, etc., with ease. The point of all of this is that I really don’t think that the problems you will see with the lag and the website are on our end. I really don’t.
According to the PARCC website, the “computer operating system and web browser requirements for viewing the Sample Items are the same as those for the general TestNav platform” (whatever that is). There is a link to a “complete list of supported systems.” The formatting is slightly different for reasons that escape me (although I just copied it with copy & paste), but this is a table that appears on that link:
|Tablet/Other OS||TestNav App|
Must be running Chrome OS 33
So again, my daughter did this on a recent iPad running the latest version of iOS7, which is a supported system according to the test makers’ own website.
Here is a screenshot of the problem she worked on in the video.
This problem isn’t particularly hard, right? In fact, I think it’s about right for 3rd graders.
For Part A, we know that Elena has 5 beads, and that Damian has 8 more beads than Elena. So Damian has 5 + 8 = 13 beads, right?
So far, so good. Now we also know that Trish has 4 times as many beads as Damian. Since we know that Damian has 13 beads, we know that Trish has 13 x 4 = 52 beads.
For Part B, we know that Elena has 5 beads, Damian has 13 beads, and Trish has 52 beads. In addition, we know that after distributing the beads, Mrs. Morales had 10 beads left.
Therefore, Mrs. Morales started with 5 + 13 + 52 + 10 = 80 beads.
Her problem was not the math. Her problem was not figuring out the right answers (although we do see how having to switch back and forth between paper and screen is distracting and more likely to lead to transcription and/or careless errors). But perhaps that is a skill we’re also trying to test the third graders for? No? Well, it’s not a terrible skill to learn.
Her problem, however, was typing what she knew into the iPad program.
Did you see how many times she had to switch back and forth between various entry formats?
Did you see the lag when she tried to type in her explanation of the problem?
Did you see?
I named this blog “Parenting the Core” for a reason: my primary intention is to write about teaching and learning in the era of the Common Core from a parent’s perspective. Because it was education-related, I wrote and posted my teacher’s manifesto, which went viral. But while I do not pretend to understand the pressures faced by our children’s teachers in the current environment, I can speak to the pressures I’m seeing in my house as a parent — and that my child is feeling as a student.
And what I am seeing (which you’ve all hopefully seen now as well) is that I have some serious issues (simply from a technological perspective) with the proposed PARCC assessments. You know, the ones that over a million U.S. students will be field testing two months from now. The ones running on a platform that apparently fails to register letters or registers additional letters as our kids try to type. The ones that require our third graders to switch back and forth between various input formats numerous times as they try to answer a math problem.
The ones that made me, an adult, so frustrated that I wanted to throw my iPad out the window.
The ones I never would have dreamed in a million years of opting my daughter out of. At least not before today.