Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is Colorado Ready to Reject PARCC Test

With the recent release of PARCC test scores in Colorado, there was bound to be discussion about the validity of results. For a test in its first year with no data backing authenticity of the scores, and in a state where a considerable number of parents refused to allow testing of their children, the scores were already of dubious value. 

Thus, I was disappointed by the Denver Post’s recent editorial statement that “Parents should accept that PARCC is here to stay and is necessary to help guide education efforts and accountability.” This seems to run contrary to conventional wisdom in education circles which have seen PARCC lose ground in the state of Massachusetts and New York consider a rewrite of Common Core. PARCC is losing ground fast, and many people expect it to fold. According to ChalkbeatCDE head Eliot Asp recently told school boards in Colorado Springs “there’s not enough time to switch to a new test,” and state board chair Steve Durham said, “The odds of continuing with that particular assessment are slim” beyond next year. “But I have only one vote.” A majority of the board is on record as opposing PARCC. Clearly, a shift from PARCC appears to be coming.

In reality, there is significant and reasonable distrust of PARCC’s authenticity, and the legislature has already confirmed a parent’s right to refuse testing for their children. Thus, declaring that parents should simply accept it is hardly going to make that happen. In fact, the opposite is probably true until the people promoting changes in education convince parents that the changes are in the best interest of their children. Parents are going to advocate for their children and their schools regardless of what the state or the media or corporate education reformers like Bill Gates or David Coleman tell them they should do.

PARCC is the problem, and many parents, educators, and legislators who have scrutinized the test have determined it does not meet the needs of the education community. As I've noted, PARCC scores in Illinois indicated “zero percent” of high school students were advanced – a conclusion that is patently absurd in one of the country's most populous states with some of its top high schools. The same is true for Colorado results that indicated only 18% of 8th grade students are proficient in math.  It’s a flawed assessment that will fold for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that parents and critics are opposed to all testing or accountability or measurement. Case in point: many schools in the metro area gave the ACT-Aspire test this fall, and there was no opt-out movement. Similarly, in the past year Colorado students have willingly taken MAPS and CoGAT and the PSAT and the ACT and AP exams without hesitation. Thus, it’s clear that parents are interested in standardized tests as a diagnostic for learning, and they will commit to tests they trust.

Now that the ESSA has replaced NCLB, and decision-making on school accountability has returned to the states (albeit with maintaining an emphasis on yearly testing), Colorado schools and parents have an opportunity to craft a more authentic and meaningful system of assessment. Diagnostics are valid and appreciated – a test-and-punish system that seeks to myopically focus all accountability and measurement of “success” on a single test score are not. Going forward, those seeking progress in public education need to look more deeply into the issue of student achievement and testing and not simply consider the issue resolved. 

Because it’s not.

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