The new PARCC test is being used for the first time this week in East Greenwich, across the state, and in 11 other states (including Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia.
The test – developed to better assess student achievement in the era of the Common Core –replaces the NECAP standardized test and differs from it in significant ways. Among the differences, the PARCC is meant to be taken online using a computer, although not all schools have enough computers so those schools, like Cole Middle School, are using a paper version instead. It is administered to grades 3 through 11, as compared to the NECAP, which tested students in fifth, eighth and eleventh grades only.
PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It has been controversial. In some states, large groups of students have walked out of the tests. Here in East Greenwich, parents of 19 students across the district have opted them out of taking the tests, according to Supt. Victor Mercurio. The test is not compulsory; Mercurio said while he hoped all students would sit for the tests, but he understood that some parents would decide otherwise. Those students who are not taking the test have been asked to bring along a book to read during the testing periods. Read about one parent who decided to opt out her kids here.
The test is given in 90-minute increments. At both Hanaford and Eldredge elementary schools, students will take the tests using computers on a rotating basis. At EGHS, students will take the tests on their school-issued Chromebooks. At Cole – as at 20 percent of schools in Rhode Island – the testing will be done on paper.
Part of the challenge of the PARCC is the computer component – not just the lack of sufficient numbers of computers at Cole, but issues relating to how the test will function on a particular device and using a particular browser. Just how well students are able to type matters too, explained Mercurio.
He gave an example of students in fifth grade being faced with short-answer questions.
“Short answers were easy on the paper test – they just wrote,” said Mercurio. “Grade 5 students don’t necessarily know how to type, so there may be a disconnect with what’s in their head and their understanding of the concepts and their ability to demonstrate those in a test environment.”
That’s one of the reasons Mercurio said he expects test scores will take a dip initially.
“It may have implications, if we look at the results and we see a disconnect between what students have demonstrated they know and what they are able to do through pen and paper, versus what they have put down digitally, then we’re going to have to see how we reconcile those two,” he said. “They’re being asked to do things in environments that, while they may have been exposed to it for a little bit, they haven’t been exposed to it to the same kind of level of complexity that they’re doing now.”
Mercurio is talking about typing answers, but he’s also talking about the test questions themselves.
“When you actually look at the examples of the test, the problems are more complex and require different levels of thinking for students,” he said.
Here’s a sample question from a grade 3 PARCC practice test:
Which equations are true? Select the THREE correct answers.
A. 7 ÷ 7 = 0
B. 3 x 4 = 12
C. 10 ÷ 5 = 5
D. 16 ÷ 2 = 8
E. 0 x 6 = 0
And here’s another:
Cindy is finding the quotient for 27 ÷ 9. She says, “The answer is 18 because addition is the opposite of division and 9 + 18 = 27.”
Part A: Identify the incorrect reasoning in Cindy’s statement. Enter your explanation in the space provided.
Part B: Show or explain how Cindy can correct her reasoning. Find the quotient when 27 is divided by 9. Enter your answer and your work or explanation in the space provided.
You can check out sample test questions for both math and literacy (ELA) for all grade levels here.
On the computer, the test will come up as an icon on the screen. Students click and then they start to take the test.
“The computers have to be locked down on that particular activity,” said Mercurio. In other words, website access will be limited to the PARCC site.
He said he expected there would be a lot of sharing among teachers, administrators and technology directors across the state following this initial round of testing.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of debriefing obviously from the professionals on a number of a different levels,” said Mercurio. “The technology directors are going to say, ‘These are the things that worked really well. These are the things that did not work really well. The test is easy to give in Chrome … it’s not easy to give in Internet Explorer … it’s easier to give in Firefox – whatever the case may be. There’s going to be a lot of that kind of sharing.”
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Dr. Mercurio, These questions are very reasonable for a world-class school district.