PARCC poses problems, but NKHS administration is trying to solve them

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The minute hand on the clock creeps along as students silently sit at computer desks, struggling to stay awake as they attempt to answer questions on the PARCC test. Students are accustomed to taking standardized tests after years of completing NECAP assessments, but they have never before taken this test – and most have never taken a test on the computer.

The new PARCC assessment (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) poses a plethora of problems to students and disrupts the learning environment. As a staunch opponent of the PARCC, I object to its level of difficulty, the major impact it will have on the school’s schedule, the loss of valuable class time in English, math, business, and technology courses, as well as its computer-based format. However, I recently sat down with Dr. Denise Mancieri, interim principal, to discuss this new standardized test. Dr. Mancieri eased my worries and caused me to reconsider my fierce opposition to it. Although I still dislike some aspects of the assessment, which has been imposed on local communities by our state’s Dept. of Education, I believe that administrators and faculty are doing their best to mitigate the effects of it.

Unless they choose to opt out, all freshmen and sophomores must take three two hour-long sessions of the computer-based English PARCC assessment this coming month. In addition, students in Algebra 1 and Geometry are required to take two sessions of the mathematics PARCC test this month, and two near the end of the year. Rhode Islanders will be taking the test along with students in 12 other states and Washington, DC.

I dislike the difficulty of the PARCC, and I initially did not see a purpose to it. However, my interview with Dr. Mancieri led me to reconsider my position about the objective of the assessment. Despite what its name suggests, the test is no walk in the park. The computer-based English test includes many complex, high-level questions that align with the new Common Core standards and require intense critical thinking.  Even so, Dr. Mancieri said (to my relief) that the purpose of the test is to evaluate school performance and to determine if “students are academically prepared” by the new Common Core standards, not to punish students for their lack of abilities.

She also added that the assessment provides a gauge for federal and state education officials, who may adjust its level of difficulty and alter the Common Core curriculum for students based on this year’s results.

But will the test’s difficulty frustrate students? Probably, if you ask me. Only time will tell.

I also disapprove of the test because it will obstruct the learning environment here at school. Due to the two-hour long sessions and the disparity between supply and demand for computers, PARCC will create an inconsistent schedule for students and faculty over the next several weeks. Our school’s daily advisory period will be abandoned, and some periods will be shortened, whereas others will be lengthened. I already have trouble sitting through some of my classes for 90 consecutive minutes, so I am not looking forward to any two hour-long class periods.

Freshmen and sophomores in mathematics and English courses will also lose valuable instruction time. Between three practice sessions, my American Literature class has already lost 270 minutes of potential instruction time. In addition, we will lose another 360 minutes across three two hour-long testing sessions.

Likewise, business and technology classes will be forced to vacate the PC computer labs in order to accommodate the assessment. PARCC will inhibit learning for the students in such computer-based courses and limit productivity for them, even though they will not lose any “class time” according to its literal definition.  However, Dr. Mancieri reassured me that teachers are collaborating with one another to the greatest extent possible and sharing the computer labs in order to meet the needs of all business and technology courses.

Lastly, I think that the computer-based format of the test will pose technical challenges. According to a March 2 article on the website of KOAT ABC Channel 7 in Albuquerque, N.M., a brief power outage as a result of widespread computer usage prevented students from accessing the test afterwards. This prompted a student walk-out. While I do not anticipate that the same problems will happen here at NK, I predict that several students will have trouble logging in.

Furthermore, I thought that the assessment would put students who are not proficient typists at a disadvantage. Like earlier, Dr. Mancieri reassured me that scribes will be provided for those students so that their inability to type will not impact their test performance.

Although the PARCC assessment poses challenges due to its difficulty, impact on the regular schedule here at school,  and its computer-based format, my interview with Dr. Mancieri led me to realize that our school’s administration is handling everything as best as they can. The Rhode Island Department of Education imposed the test on NKHS students, not our local administrators. However, I think that students should be required to take fewer sessions of the math and English assessments in the future because the four week-long span of the test interferes with the school’s regular schedule, and, in turn, the learning process.

 

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