My daughters’ school district is holding a series of “PARCC Family Presentations” over the next few weeks. The presentation targeted at parents of third through fifth grade students is set for this Thursday. In preparation for the presentation, the district has — to its credit — announced that it is soliciting questions regarding the PARCC assessments. So I sat down and generated a list of my current questions. Then I went to submit them via the District’s Google Docs form, and promptly discovered that the district’s form imposes a 500 character limit per subject.
As you will see below, after spending the past year or so educating myself about the PARCC, my questions far exceed 500 characters so I emailed my questions directly to our district’s Chief Academic Officer. I really hope that we get some honest answers to these questions. Here are my hopefully skeptical but respectful questions (slightly edited to take out the district-specific language I used in my email), plus a few additional questions that I thought of after I sent my email. Please suggest additions to my list, comment on my list of questions, and let me know if your school districts are holding similar information sessions. If your district is holding similar sessions, please attend one so that you can learn what your district is saying and ask your own questions. Of course, if my concerns mirror yours, please feel free to adapt my questions for use in your own school district.
Most of all, even if your children are not third through eleventh graders, please educate yourselves about these tests, and think critically about where our schools are headed now that many states, including but not limited to my state, New Jersey, have doubled-down on implementing high-stakes standardized testing for our students.
PARCC FAMILY PRESENTATIONS — QUESTIONS
I. Testing Administration
1. What will happen if I decide to have my child refuse PARCC testing? Will there be consequences for my child, his/her teacher, and/or his/her school? Will my child be forced to “sit and stare,” or will s/he be provided with an alternate educational experience?
2. How many hours of testing for 3rd graders? 4th graders? 5th graders? How much total time per school will be spent on a testing schedule given that all children in the grade level cannot test simultaneously? Will children miss their [elective] classes during PARCC administration, even if they themselves are not testing? What impact will testing have on the [elective] programs at [my daughter’s school]? Is [the technology teacher] teaching fewer technology electives than in the past due to PARCC preparation?
3. Why is it necessary (from a pedagogical perspective) for our students to be tested in both March and May?
4. What in-district adults are proctoring and reviewing the PARCC tests to ensure that the test questions are not poorly worded, ambiguous, and/or that correct answer choices are provided for multiple choice tasks? Will those people be able to speak out if questions are poorly worded or if no correct answer choices are provided, or are they going to be required to agree to gag orders before they can administer the tests?
II. Scoring and Reporting
1. Will a school or schools in this school district face in-district consequences (e.g., steps taken to dismantle a school’s magnet theme) now or in the future as a result of its performance on PARCC?
2. I understand that although New York is not a PARCC state, it has been giving Common Core aligned assessments for two years now, and the passing rate has dropped from over 60% to under 30%. What percentage of New Jersey/[our local district] children are expected to pass PARCC in 2014?
5. Will PARCC results be part or all of the criteria used to identify [gifted and talented] students going forward? What happens if my child was previously identified as a [gifted and talented] student, but loses that designation because s/he lacks the technology skills to succeed on the PARCC assessments?
III. Technology Skills
1. What steps are you taking to ensure that our 8, 9, and 10 year old students have the typing skills necessary to compose essays with keyboards? How much time is being spent on preparing children to acquire the skills necessary to master the PARCC interface? Is the preparation process uniform throughout the district? If it is not, doesn’t this mean that we won’t be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons of student scores even across the district?
IV. Content Areas
1. I have seen virtually no evidence of specific social studies instruction (stand alone ELA worksheets with “social studies themes” do not count in my book) and very little science instruction since [our district] started implementing Common Core and preparing for the PARCC assessments. What steps are you taking to ensure that our children are learning the history and civics necessary to become informed citizens and voters?
2. Will students lose points on math assessments if they do not use specific Common Core strategies to solve problems (e.g., performing multiplication the traditional way rather than drawing an array)? My child lost full credit on the following Envisions math test problem this year: “Write a multiplication sentence for 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 15” because she wrote 3 x 5 = 15 instead of 5 x 3 = 15. Will children be losing points on PARCC for failure to make meaningless distinctions such as this one?
V. Additional Questions I Should Have Asked
1. What effect do you expect the PARCC test to have on our district’s efforts to close the achievement gap? Given the wealth disparity — and resulting inequities in home access to technology — in our district, aren’t these assessments likely to magnify our district’s pre-existing achievement gap?
2. What preparations are you making to care for our children’s emotional and social health during these tests (and when the results become available), given the likelihood that far more students are going to struggle with — and fail — these tests than struggled with and failed the NJ ASK?
3. How can it be developmentally appropriate for our 9 year old fourth grade students to spend 10 hours on PARCC testing when many adults cannot handle the stress of the 11 hour and 15 minute New Jersey Bar Exam?
VI. Additional Questions Suggested by Readers — Please also see the additional excellent questions in the Comments section, and feel free to add your own!
1. What demographic information will be collected in connection with our students taking this test? Who will this demographic data be shared with, and what controls are in place to make sure our students’ demographic data isn’t sold for marketing or other purposes?
2. Will some or all of the tests be made public after testing so that we, the community, can review the questions and the sample/model answers and so that our children’s teachers can actually use the assessment data to guide classroom instruction? In the absence of such a release, what value does the assessment data provide to classroom teachers?
3. What costs — in addition to the one million dollars the district allocated to capital spending this year to support technology upgrades — are associated with preparing our students and their teachers for the PARCC tests? What portion of our personnel budget is attributable to time spent on preparing for and proctoring these exams?