Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Colorado, PARCC Tests, & ACT Aspire

Another recent piece for the Denver Post:

Colorado Should Replace PARCC Test with ACT Aspire

Replace PARCC with ACT Aspire

In Colorado’s rush to judgment in an attempt to Race-to-the-Top, it’s time to put PARCC testing in park.

Following seven other states who adopted Common Core standards, Colorado should immediately withdraw from the PARCC consortium until the state has a chance to publicly review, evaluate, and critique Common Core standards and PARCC. As an alternative, Colorado could put a moratorium on standardized testing, or it could continue with its own test, the CSAP/TCAP. If a test is deemed necessary, and TCAP is considered insufficient, there is a better option.  In place of PARCC testing, Colorado should instead contract with ACT whose new Aspire program is aligned with state standards, as well as college readiness measures, and is available for grades 3 through 11.

One of the primary problems with the PARCC test is the mystery and ambiguity of both the organization and its assessments. PARCC, which stands for the Partnership to Assess Readiness for College and Career, is an un-proven standardized test created by a private consortium that has provided very little information or transparency on what their tests will look like. On the other hand, ACT is a familiar, trusted, and time-honored testing service that has released as many sample items in the past six months as PARCC has released in more than two years. ACT is a known entity with a proven track record, and ACT’s tests actually mean something to parents, students, and, perhaps most importantly, colleges.

From a purely financial standpoint, choosing ACT or even maintaining TCAP is preferable to spending Colorado’s tax money on tests created by a nebulous unproven organization. Currently, PARCC tests are estimated to cost roughly $30 per student, whereas ACT will do it for $20.  And with PARCC, states still don’t really know what they’re paying for. The problem with PARCC is most evident in the scant materials it has released to the public. Having watched numerous presentations on Common Core and PARCC, I’ve seen the same tired and limited sample questions again and again. It’s simply not enough information. And while people are fairly confident about what established tests like ACT tell us, no one knows if PARCC questions or scores mean anything at all. While proponents argue that PARCC offers a more rigorous test of critical thinking and application of knowledge, there is no comparison by which to draw that conclusion.

An important consideration in choosing a testing program is to consider what colleges expect. ACT is a classic benchmark for college readiness. In fact, ACT scores are one of the primary measures Colorado uses to rate schools on college preparation. And colleges actually trust and care what ACT results reveal. No college intends to use PARCC scores for college admission – and our students must still take the state-mandated ACT.  ACT’s Aspire program is specifically scaffolded to prepare students for the ACT, even as the ACT evolves to meet changing needs and expectations of colleges and careers. Regardless, the ACT and its program matter to colleges in a way that PARCC doesn’t.

The organization of Colorado moms, who initiated a bill calling for a timeout on Common Core and PARCC testing, have reasonably questioned the validity of PARCC. For, in a country where roughly 60% of adults had little-to-no understanding of Common Core and PARCC as late as last September, it seems foolish to proceed with implementation before the involved parties fully understand it. Though Senator Michael Johnston has argued that people simply don’t understand the values and benefits of the test, he fails to concede that very misunderstanding necessitates a “time out.” And, as the Denver Post recently reported, the vote by the Colorado State Board of Education to adopt Common Core and contract with PARCC was made by a slim 4-3 margin. That represents a disconcerting “consensus” and demands further discussion and review.

While Common Core proponents confidently claim 45 states have “adopted” the standards, they don’t acknowledge that as many as seventeen have serious misgivings, including discussions of withdrawal. If that’s the case, and states are bailing out of the PARCC test, then Colorado should certainly not accept the role of guinea pig for an unpiloted test with serious transparency issues. While the state claims to be piloting the tests this year for implementation next year, that schedule is simply irresponsible. After a pilot year, the people of Colorado need time to review the tests, the results, and the conclusions drawn from the data.

Opposition to PARCC testing is not about opposing high standards. Many teachers, parents, and students accept the new Colorado Academic Standards and Common Core. The standards are not the primary concern. The problem is a high stakes test by an entity that has no track record, no transparency, and no connection to Colorado. Douglas County School District, which opted out of Common Core, recently passed a resolution opposing state and federal testing. It also requests the right to opt out of mandated testing without penalty. DCSD’s motivation is grounded in opposition to tests that do not meet their needs, arguing PARCC is not an “authentic assessment.” Numerous states agree. Kentucky – the first state to fully implement Common Core – has withdrawn from PARCC, following Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, Utah, Alaska, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Alabama, who are all pursuing alternative tests.

The Colorado State Board of Education will soon need to make a decision about renewing the contract with PARCC. Until we know more about what the full test looks like and what the results actually mean, Colorado should not renew PARCC. 

The State Board of Education will meet on Wednesday to discuss renewing with PARCC.

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