Sunday, February 15, 2015

Colorado Teacher's Naive Defense of PARCC - Test for Testing's Sake

As the discussion and debate about standardized testing continues in Colorado and nationwide, and more parents are exercising their rights of choice in education by refusing to allow their children's participation in a new un-proven assessment system, people in the pro-testing (sic!) camp are pushing back with spirited defense of tests like PARCC. This has created an interesting back-and-forth in the media. In Colorado, the Denver Post has been on a pro-PARCC run for a while now, and I responded last week with an argument that "PARCC Won't Solve Our Testing Challenges." As I've noted before, I am not opposed to standards or accountability or even the idea of "education reform." However, I have been suspicious of and critical toward PARCC for myriad reasons. From the lack of transparency about the creation of the tests to the supposed "piloting" of the test that produced no actual data or results to the awkward online format that is unlike any previous high stakes testing to the inherent inequity that test-based reform has wrought, schools need time to evaluate Common Core-linked testing and new programs such as PARCC. These are all legitimate concerns that require time to resolve.

But those concerns are simply irrelevant and dismissed by some.

In response to my PARCC criticism, Longmont area teacher Jessica Moore submitted a letter to the Denver Post which urged "Don't Throw Out PARCC Before It Has Been Instituted." Moore is in favor of, even in awe of, the new PARCC exam, and she sings its praises on her website. The thought that some could challenge the idea of the test or consider refusing to take it is shocking to her. In Moore's world, Colorado should proceed with the PARCC test simply because there is a PARCC test - and that's a point of view which certainly lacks the sort of critical thinking that standardized tests fail to measure. Truly, as Moore notes, "countless hours" and hundreds of millions of "dollars" have gone in to the development of the PARCC. Yet, surprisingly, there is still no data about its authenticity. That seems like an egregious lack of quality control that would have been unacceptable in the very business world that is so actively promoting the tests. The tests are nothing if not a major financial investment. Imagine if those millions of dollars and countless hours had been spent on direct intervention for our most challenged schools and populations. Additionally, in a rather obtuse bit of thinking, Moore responds to my criticism that promises about PARCC's quality are not "evidence-based" by responding that while there's no evidence PARCC is good, there's no evidence that it's bad either. I'm not sure why Moore believes that counter-argument should reassure parents, teachers, or kids. But arguing that there's no "proof" the tests are poorly written and ill-conceived is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Moore concludes with some artful "begging the question" by simply declaring "it's a good test," as if Coloradans should simply believe it because she says so. Claiming to be an educator "involved in the development and review" of the test questions, Moore acknowledges that we will have to "tweak the test" to improve it. Sadly, as an educator she should have advocated for such "tweaking" during a legitimate piloting of the test. And, even then, such tweaking would not and could not address all the problems with test-based reform that will only exacerbate equity issues as struggling schools will be forced to increase myopic efforts to "teach to the test." And, people like Jessica Moore seem to naively and passively accept that if testing is to be done, it must be via the PARCC. As a parent of high performing children and a teacher at a high performing high school, I will continue to argue that the ACT test already meets our needs and legal requirements.

And, thus, I can find no reason to accept Moore's naive promotion of PARCC.

No comments: