My thoughts about PARCC

I’ve never met anyone, educator or non-educator, who has said, “I love standardized testing!” or “I can’t wait to get those national assessments in front of our kids.” Standard assessments are not something that I get excited about. They became a federal mandate when NCLB started; NJ was even testing long before that. Testing is now a yearly ritual for schools and students, and the PARCC test has re-ignited the debate over standardized testing. Do I love testing? No…BUT…I always try to see the positive in things.

The fact remains that PARCC is here; it is a reality for our kids, parents and teachers. As an educator, I am not a promoter nor a detractor of PARCC. Simply put, PARCC testing will begin in a few short weeks, and we are all focused on doing whatever we can to make the experience as much of a stress-less one for kids and teachers.

Recently, I have responded to a few emails from parents about PARCC. I welcome those conversations. Dialogue is important, and I always look forward to informative discussions. I thought it would be good to share my thoughts on PARCC in an effort to inform, clarify, and, perhaps, offer a different lens to look through.

Perspective of an Educator

As an educator, I believe that testing, whether it is the PARCC or NJ ASK, has both positives and negatives attached to each test. Some may argue that we, our country, give tests (standardized) too often. I wouldn’t disagree with that. Any loss of instructional / learning time within the classroom is a detriment to students. I do, however, see the value that an assessment may give a district or a family in regards to data.

Data: I believe that the most important data we get about students is the day in/day out information we get from classrooms, from teachers. Our hope and belief is that the PARCC results will give us more data about students and what they know. This data can help focus our instructional and professional development needs and, most importantly, give parents and teachers a view of what we need to do to help our kids become college and career ready; I do see this as a positive to any standardized assessment. The data that districts received from the NJ ASK scores was not very thorough. We would get little information about students and where exactly they were thriving or needing support. We have been told that the data we will be getting from Pearson in relationship to PARCC will be a more thorough picture of how kids are doing on specific skills. More data is better. We will not create our entire instructional program for specific students based on PARCC data, but we will use the data to help provide a more thorough understanding of our students. If the data we get from PARCC is not as deep as they have said I would be GREATLY disappointed. Is this data the only information we need? Of course not. Standardized tests are just a snapshot – a one day image. We need multiple assessment strategies within our classrooms. These strategies only give us a clearer picture of how are kids are doing. Accompanied with data from the PARCC, we will have information from multiple sources that will only heighten our level of understanding of the academic needs/strengths of our students and programs. I do understand people’s concern about the over abundance of testing and the newness of PARCC, but I do believe that it is important to gain us much information about a student’s educational progress as possible.

Student Preparedness: The best way to prepare for any standardized testing is good teaching and higher level learning experiences for kids. PARCC is different from the NJ ASK. The obvious difference is that it is an online assessment. PARCC seeks to assess skills and knowledge like the NJ ASK, but it also requires students to critically think, find deeper meaning, analyze, and evaluate.

As we begin the first year of PARCC testing, we (like most districts) have spent time familiarizing students to the test, the test format and how to manipulate through the test. As students are more familiar with these elements the more comfortable they will be on testing days. The other way to prepare kids from a school’s standpoint is to ensure that our curriculum is rigorous, aligned with the Common Core and provides a vast amount of experiences to think critically, work through a problem, figure out why something does/doesn’t work, evaluate two texts and develop original thoughts and ideas from them, etc…

Making sure students are prepared is a huge focus for us. This focus is aligned with what we expect kids to be exposed to everyday in the UFRSD. I believe that our kids are just as ready as other districts, because of the outstanding work of our teachers and building administrators.

Learning from the Experience: I believe when the PARCC assessment is completed in June we will gain a great deal of information from the process. It is too early, in my opinion, to pass judgment on the test or whether the test is a worthy assessment of kids. Standardized assessments, in general, give us a “snapshot” of where they are academically. They are not the be all and end all of education; they are far from it. They do, however (as I mentioned earlier), give us data. Data that we hope will be beneficial to our students in the long run.

Teacher Evaluation: The topic of standardized assessments being used to measure teachers became a reality for us 2 years ago. For this school year, it will count 10% of their evaluation rating. Originally, it was 30%. Using standardized assessments for teacher rating is another conversation, which we probably wouldn’t disagree about.

Perspective of a Dad

If my daughters were of PARCC age, whether I agreed with PARCC or not, it would be an experience I would want them to have. Not because it would be life-changing or wonderful, but because it would be another experience that would help them grow. The stress of the test is a real concern. I understand that as a parent. I also know that as they get into high school and begin to take more assessments that impact their future. I believe, rightfully or wrongfully, that our kids will be seeing more “high-stakes” online assessments for college, professional certifications and other work-related requirements…the more exposure to these situations the more equipped they will be to handle them.

My only hope in writing this is that it will help to inform others about one person’s perspective. To sum things up…

  • I’m not a fan of standardized tests.
  • PARCC is here, so I have to work as hard as I can to make the experience better for kids.
  • Because PARCC is a reality, I am looking forward to seeing what data comes from it. Hopefully the data will be usable.

There are many other topics relating to PARCC, stay tuned. 🙂

PARCC INFORMATION SESSION for the COMMUNITY – Join us on Tuesday, February 24th @ 6:30 p.m. in the SBMS Aud. to hear from Newell Elementary School and Stone Bridge Middle School administration about PARCC. There will be time for questions afterwards.

Visit our PARCC Information Page at www.ufrsd.net/PARCC.

Feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions.

My best,

Mark Guterl

PARCC Update

With the first year of PARCC testing ready to begin in a few weeks, UFRSD will be hosting information nights for each of our schools.

  • On February 12th at 6:00 p.m. (prior to Back-to-School Night),  Allentown High School will be hosting a PARCC Information Session in the high school auditorium.
  • On February 17th at 6:30 p.m,  Newell Elementary School and Stone Bridge Middle School will be hosting a PARCC Information Session in the Stone Bridge Auditorium. 

Parents will also be able to access sample tests on each of these nights, if they would like to give the PARCC assessment a try.

Administrators will share some information about PARCC testing and answer questions that parents may have regarding testing.  We hope you can join us.