As Maryland prepares to phase out its latest statewide standardized test, teachers, parents and other stakeholders in Montgomery County public schools say it’s a welcome change.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced earlier this month the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness, or PARCC, tests would no longer be given, starting in the 2020-2021 school year. The state is currently seeking bids for a new test that is less time consuming, according to The Baltimore Sun. The tests have also been criticized because more than half of students don’t pass and there is a long delay between the time students take the test and the issuing of results.
The PARCC assessment tests third- through eighth-graders in English and math, and is computer-based. The tests replaced the Maryland School Assessments in 2015. The statewide tests measure student performance in each school using a 650- to 850-point scale, and a 1 through 5 performance level, with 1 defined as not meeting expectations, and 4 or 5 classified as being “proficient.” Montgomery County was one of 12 counties that saw a decrease of at least 5 percentage points in the number of students scoring at a 4 or above between 2017 and 2018, according to recently released data from the Maryland State Board of Education.
Since the PARCC tests were instituted, there has been a cacophony of complaints among teachers and parents that the tests take too much time and are disruptive to the school day. Taking the tests requires between eight and nine and a half hours, depending on the students’ grade level, according to The Washington Post.
“Is the juice worth the squeeze? In other words, are we getting enough out of the PARCC assessment to make that worth the while with the resources and the effort it takes to administer it?” said Cynthia Simonson, vice president of education for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.
Simonson said the ideal solution would be for the state to implement a test that provides the same rigor as PARCC, but doesn’t require multiple hours to be administered during the school day. Currently, she said, completing one section of the test requires 90 minutes. Ideally, she said she would like that amount of time to be reduced to one class period, or roughly 45 minutes.
State Del. Eric Luedtke, a former teacher at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, said he remembers the first year that PARCC was administered while he was a teacher. The school, he said, put tremendous pressure on students to succeed on the test.
“We were taught about what to do in case a student because so nervous that they vomited,” he said.
Luedtke, who chairs the education subcommittee in the House of Delegates, said he too would like to see a new assessment that fits into one class period. But the better alternative to standardized testing, he argued, is a performance-based assessment, in which students answer open-ended questions instead of multiple-choice ones. American education, he said, has become “obsessed” with using standardized testing as a barometer for academic performance.
“No one test can accurately and completely measure how students are doing, so the best we’re ever going to get is a snapshot,” he said.
Jennifer Martin, vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said standardized testing turns “teachers into data collectors and students into data providers.” The result, she said, is that teachers feel “on the defensive” about making sure their students are ready for PARCC. She hopes that PARCC’s successor is designed differently.
“Any time we have an opportunity to rethink testing, that’s a good thing. I’m hoping this time teachers will be involved in designing the testing instruments,” she said.
Martin, who teaches English at Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, said she has served as a proctor during past PARCC tests and has noticed students who rush through the test, or appear disengaged. She said Montgomery County Public Schools administrators should spend more time observing testing in individual classrooms.
“I’d welcome school board members to come into my classroom any time,” she said.
Kim Glassman, PTA president at Flower Hill Elementary School in Gaithersburg, said PARCC puts an unnecessary burden on school personnel. Her daughter, who is in fifth grade and has dyslexia, must use two computers to take the test—one to read passages and another to give her answers. Two school staff members must be present to help her should she struggle with a physical task, and to ensure fidelity, Glassman said.
“It’s more than the test taking twice as long,” she said. “It’s also two school staff members with one kid. They have a lot more important things to do.”
School board member Judith Docca said one current problem with PARCC is that the results are not released until late in the summer. By then, a new school year is beginning, and teachers already have a new group of students who may score differently on the exam due to differing academic strengths.
Docca added that college preparatory tests like the SAT come with practice tests and she hopes the new Maryland assessment will include some as well. She also wants the test to be aligned with the new curriculum in English and math that the county school system is planning to implement at the elementary and middle school levels in 2020.
“Our curriculum should meet those standards, and our educators should be able to look at a facsimile on the test to make sure it meets every item,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org