Even Scaled Back, PARCC Still Has Big Problems

The Fordham Foundation has a good blog post detailing the impacts that PARCCs proposal to scale back testing would have

The spring 2015 testing window for PARCC extended from mid-February to mid-May. That’s a long time. Of course, schools were not required to administer exams throughout the full testing window—they could use as few or as many of the days within the window as they needed. But for students, parents, and educators, the three-month window probably made “testing season” feel unusually long and drawn out. (In contrast, Ohio’s old state exams were administered over the course of roughly one month.) It also meant that testing interrupted classroom instruction for more of the school year—and earlier.

The reason for the long testing window was fairly simple: The assessment system included two exams. The first, the “performance-based assessment” (PBA), was given in February–March, and the second— the “end-of-year assessment” (EOY)—was given in April–May. The PBAs focused on students’ application of knowledge and skills (e.g., solving multi-step problems, explaining mathematical reasoning), while the EOYs focused more on traditional assessment items like reading comprehension or straightforward multiple-choice math problems. See for yourself the differences in the sample PARCC exams.

But starting in spring 2016, PARCC will be administered in one thirty-day testing window, occurring in the traditional testing period of April–May. Importantly, while the earlier PBA testing window is erased, some of PARCC’s performance-based tasks will be preserved in next year’s summative exam.

This is clearly movement in the right direction, but fixes just a fraction of the problems PARCC has, and has created. We detailed these problems, with our suggested fixes a few weeks ago. We identified 4 broad areas that needed to be addressed. Testing time, technology problems, test content problems, and high stakes.

Law makers cannot simply cut back on some tests and think the job is done. Are we still going to have schools struggle to deploy tech heavy testing solutions, on unstable software platforms with inadequate bandwidth? Combining the PBA and the EOY testing into a single test is likely to exacerbate the content problems, not alleviate them - and yet more change applied to a system under constant change isn't an appropriate environment to have mis-matched stakes for students, teachers and schools.

The Ohio legislature needs to address the full range of problems, not just the politically convenient changes PARCC has recently proposed in the face of losing millions of dollars in funding.