Like a lot of parents, teachers and school administrators, I am trying to learn more about the new standardized test called The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The test was created by Pearson and districts across the country are now preparing to administer the exams for the first time this year. While I believe it is important to monitor the academic progress of our students, I am concerned that the PARCC and other standardized tests in general miss the mark when it comes to predicting a child’s academic success. Below I have outlined some of my of my additional concerns:
- Standardized tests such as the PARCC cannot measure a student’s creativity. For example, a student may not fully understand the Pythagorean Theorem, Einstein’s theory of relativity or the periodic chart of the elements. but, she may be a brilliant artist, dancer or photographer.
- Standardized tests such as the PARCC do not always measure a child’s spatial intelligence well. This type of intelligence is perhaps best described as the ability so see something in your “mind’s eye”. For example, after seeing something on paper a child may be able to use clay, plastic blocks or any other material to create it with relative ease. To do so she must have spatial intelligence or have the ability to think abstractly. Unfortunately, standardized tests do not always value or adequately assess this skill.
- The PARCC is a computer-based test. This means that the test creators believe that most students have a working knowledge of computers. This is not always the case. We must remember that a digital divide still exists in this country. Some students may not have a computer at home or have spent enough time on one in school, as a result they may not have the dexterity to operate a mouse or be familiar with the icons on the screen. With this in mind, some children may be at a distinct disadvantage when taking a computer-based test. Also, we must remember that some cash strapped districts may be forced to purchase additional computers or upgrade the ones they currently have. This may create a particular hardship for poorer urban districts, which are already operating in the red.
- Concerned about test scores and outcomes, some teachers may modify their lessons or “teach to the test”. Put differently, teachers who are preparing their students for the PARCC may end up dedicating a significant amount of time test-taking strategies. When this happens they will inevitably miss “teaching moments”. In addition to changing their pedagogy, teachers may feel anxiety about preparing their children for such a high stakes test. I once read a story about a student who told his teacher she was “mean this year.” Apparently, the child realized that the teacher was under duress and acting out of character. The teacher was frustrated by the new high stakes testing, and admitted he was right.
- Questions on the PARCC may be confusing and twisted, this can be particularly true with the math word problems, which require several steps to complete. Since there are time constraints students who can figure out the questions quickly and correctly will have an advantage. This does not mean that they are any smarter or more advanced than the slower kids. It just means that some students need more time to get come-up with the right answer.
I like what this teacher has to say about the PARRC.
All of this brings me to my original question: who really benefits from the PARCC? I would contend that Pearson and computer makers are the ones who benefit the most from the new tests. Pearson recently secured a 108 million dollar contract to administer the PARRC over the next 4 years in New Jersey. It is possible that this number could increase exponentially over time.
For some computer makers, the new standardized test will be a windfall. Surely companies like Dell, Toshiba, Apple and others will describe why their computers should be used to run the test. From software engineers to hardware manufacturers everyone is going to step up and get their slice of the economic pie. Even companies like UPS and FED Ex will financially benefit because they will be the ones delivering the new computers to the school districts.
Some school administrators argue that standardized tests such as the PARCC are needed to ensure all students are proficient in math and English and Literacy. However, at this point I am not so sure it is prudent or wise to continue to test students into oblivion. What’s more, I sometimes think the PARCC and similar standardized tests are nothing more than a money making schemes, which cannot adequately measure a child’s creatively, ability or future academic success.