Elementary, middle and high school students across the country got a taste of what may be the future of testing during the rollout of the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. After months of preparation, training and schedule rearranging, the entire school found itself plunged into a hectic schedule of 150-minute classes and computerized tests (not to mention two snow days that extended the entire process). PARCC testing may be over for now, but its effects were still apparent in the school as teachers rushed to make up missed class time and students felt the pressure to secure solid third-quarter grades.
Despite initial fear, many teachers feel that the tests went relatively smoothly. Math resource teacher Celita Davis was worried because when she took a practice PARCC math test online, she felt pressured by the time constraints and therefore wasn't sure whether her students would be able to finish. "I went into the test thinking that it was going to be longer and I was pleasantly surprised that kids had less problems and more time to think," Davis says.
One of the major concerns before the test were the Chromebooks on which they were administered. While teachers experienced some technical issues with the Chromebooks during training sessions, most of these difficulties seemed to be resolved by the time the actual tests were given. English teacher Bruce Williams noticed that even though a Chromebook would stop working every once in a while, simply restarting it seemed to fix the problem. "The Chromebooks worked very well. I thought that there would be more technical glitches and there actually weren't," he reflects.
Other teachers, however, weren't as pleased. Special education teacher Abby Holmes feels that the Chromebooks created an unfair advantage for some students. She observed many students who were less proficient at typing having a hard time navigating the Chromebooks to write the essay portion of the English test. "It's quite unjust. You have students who are already struggling with the content also limited by how quickly they type, which would highly impact an English exam," she says. Students also had problems with the Chromebooks. During the math PARCC test, freshman Tyler Leas' computer crashed multiple times and he had a hard time seeing the graphing calculator on the small computer screen.
Another common observation among teachers is that many students didn't take the test seriously since it didn't count towards their grade or graduation requirement. "Some of them finished in seven minutes because they just submitted a response for everything and then hit enter," recalls math teacher Nathanial Sturm. Williams had a similar experience with kids not putting in the effort. "They knew it wouldn't count so some kids were done in ten minutes," he explains. Sophomore Gigi Moreno didn't think that the tests were very hard, but she still didn't enjoy them. "It was just really long and the questions just didn't make sense," she explains.
In the PARCC periods when there wasn't a test administered, teachers and students alike struggled to stay engaged. "The teachers didn't want to teach for two and a half hours, and now everyone is scrambling to get the quarter finished," says sophomore Ben Bradshaw. Many teachers set aside time for stretch breaks or fun activities, but even with these conscious efforts to make class more interesting, many students just couldn't focus. Sophomore Jeremy Mullaney has two words to describe the long classes: very boring. "You are not supposed to sit down for two hours. That's just not right," he states. Tenth grade English teacher Keith Anderson noticed a marked change in attitude throughout the entire school. "The energy and the positive vibes that were drained out of the school were palpable," he says. "Most of the kids I teach in tenth grade are not engaged in school, and these kids were coming in and saying things like 'when are we going to get to learn again?' "
While Blair seemed to go into panic mode preparing for the PARCC tests, it appears as though the actual rollout, while not great, wasn't a complete disaster. Despite the cutting of class time and the scheduling and logistical nightmare, the main goal--to administer the PARCC tests--was accomplished. Anderson, however, stresses that while the school managed to give the tests, they weren't necessarily worth the time and effort. He believes the biggest question people should be asking is why the tests happened in the first place. "All of our worry [is] on the physical implementation of the test and we are not talking about things like 'is this test fair?' " he says. "We need to do all that we can to shift the conversation from 'how can we successfully make this happen' to 'why is this happening at all?' "
Ellie Struewing. My name is Ellie and I like to listen to music and watch The Office. I like the color gray and buying office supplies. More »
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