The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

PARCC Testing – Day One

Concern about the latest incarnation of high-stakes standardised testing has been at a frenzy over the past several months. The same type of testing that has existed (albeit without the high stakes) in our nation since at least the mid-1930s. The same type of testing that has been a major part of our national educational conscience since the late 1980s when the Reagan administration released A Nation at Risk and then the first Bush administration released  America 2000 followed by the Clinton administration’s  Goals 2000 before we finally settled on the second Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind.

The names of the tests have changed, the format and content have changed, but the test themselves have been around for a long time. Now that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been fully adopted, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) has developed an assessment aligned to the CCSS that Illinois has, along with 17 other states, adopted as our high-stakes standardised test.

And because it is new and because of a hundred million reasons, it seems like everyone has been going crazy over the tests, talking about opting out, refusing to do it, the possible impact it will have on our schools and our students, and whether or not we are ready.

Some schools have devoted weeks, even months to test preparation. Some districts have paid large sums of money for test prep kits and modules. There are some states that are tying students exam results to teacher evaluation and student promotion. These are all decisions with which I disagree.

What did we do in my tiny fourth grade classroom on the edge of east central Illinois? We looked at the math and English/Language Arts (ELA) modules available on the PARCC website and we did a tutorial on how to use the online tools.

That’s all.

Otherwise, our days have gone as usual. Math at the start of the morning, social studies or science in the middle of the morning, literacy at the end of the morning. Lunch then a read aloud before fine arts. Ending the day with writing. Other tasks and activities sprinkled liberally throughout the day. Just doing what we do every day, some of it very productively and some of it needed to be revised before trying it again.

And then the day of testing arrived.

My class was the first one scheduled to start the day, with the students doing the first ELA section. (There are three ELA sections and two mathematics sections.) We had a breakfast snack in the morning and I made sure every student had a chance to use the restroom. Then we headed across the hall to the computer lab. My principal was there. And my librarian. And my reading interventionist. And my instructional coach. And my superintendent. Wow. No pressure, right?

The students came in quietly, took their seats, and followed my directions. We got them logged in, and then they get started. There were no disruptions, no distractions, and no problems. My students know how to use technology. They know how to navigate websites. They know how to access digital tools that are made available.

Was the test itself easy for every? No, not really.

Am I worried about the test results? No, not really.

Do I think that high-stakes standardised testing of all students is necessary? No, not really.

Do I think this is something that teachers, administrators, parents, or students should be anxious about? No, not really.

I keep thinking about the letter about PARCC testing that my superintendent recently distributed to all families in the district and shared on our district web site. Specifically, I am thinking about this line:

“We do not allow one assessment to define our students, our teachers, or our schools.”

And at the end of the day, as I sit in my empty classroom and think about what the rest of this week will bring, I keep reminding myself of one simple truth: My students did their best. How can I possibly expect them to do anything more than that?

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