By Vicki Little
Pretty soon we will all receive that “important letter” on brightly colored paper that details the dates our children will be stuck in front of a computer screen for hours trying to remember what their teachers have been drilling into them for weeks. We will be asked to make sure our children go to bed early and eat a high-protein breakfast in hopes of increasing their scores on a test that many people feel is more about memorization than learning. PARCC testing is back, bringing with it a new tiered system to entice the 39 states that did not participate last year.
According to PARCConline.org, “the PARCC test helps ensure that all students, regardless of income, family background or geography, have equal access to a world-class education that will prepare them for success after high school in college and/or careers.” In a nutshell, PARCC tests are designed to create a standard level of college readiness by carefully evaluating test scores and adjusting teaching as necessary to ensure ALL children are able to reach that standard.
Sounds great on paper, but according to many parents and educators alike, PARCC is nothing more than a high-stakes standardized test (meaning schools feel threatened they will receive less money, fewer programs, and lower salaries for teachers if students opt-out or low scores are produced.) The result is that schools have to “teach to the test” instead of truly teaching children to learn. Despite the fact that the school receives little or no feedback that is diagnostic or instructional (at least at this point), schools are strongly encouraging participation — with some even telling kids that their options for college will be limited if they don’t. Since teacher evaluations and possibly pay can be impacted by the results, some parents feel they are encouraging students to take these tests out of fear and not because of their belief in the benefits of the test.
Jennifer R., who chose to opt her daughter out of the PARCC tests as a junior, believes that schools are jumping on a bandwagon before evaluating the benefits and risks of the test. Many states may have agreed: Fewer than half of states that originally signed on for PARCC ended up administering the test last year. While her daughter still had to sit through classes that were being “taught to the test, ” she didn’t have to deal with the stress of what the results were going to mean. And for her, they didn’t mean anything. She still got into the college of her choice. She still received scholarships because of her good grades. She still got credit for the college-level classes she was taking in high school, and her grades and report card did not change. During testing, she was allowed to go to the library and read or study on her own (though even if her mom had called to keep her home, it would be considered an unexcused absence without a doctor’s note).
Michelle J. in Colorado doesn’t hold much stock in the Common Core standardized tests, either. Parents don’t receive the scores until the following fall, when students have already taken their placement exams and are well into learning for the year. And the scores they do receive don’t give any information about the areas in which students may be struggling or excelling, other than the general subjects. She feels schools are not totally honest with parents or students about the reasons for testing, and they put too much stress on kids for something that has few benefits. She feels the tests are intended to show how well a school is performing rather than how well a student is doing. Since her son also had to take the SAT for college applications, she told him to focus on that and not stress about the other.
And what about elementary school children who aren’t even thinking about college yet? According to PARCC, the tests ensure that they stay on track for college when the time comes. Again, by the time the results are in, the kids have already advanced a year and are on to learning something new. And if they were struggling? Well, hopefully, the teachers caught it in time, or they can fall even further behind.
Some teachers are struggling to see the benefit of Common Core standardized testing as well. One Colorado teacher, whose children are in 2nd and 6th grade, opted her son and daughter out of the test, despite being told to encourage her own students to take it.
“The test is too new, and there are too many variables for it to be beneficial for the kids. We don’t receive the results, so we don’t adjust our teaching according to what they know or don’t know, ” she said. “At this point, all it is doing is stressing kids out and I don’t see any benefit for them to go through that. I have them find a topic they want to learn about and then do a report on it during the time the other kids are testing.”
She added that, “the hours stay the same, but what we have to teach just keeps getting longer. Recesses and lunches get shorter because now we have to add more to our curriculum to make sure the kids are ready for the test. I don’t want to support that by having my own children participate in the test.”
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU OPT YOUR CHILD OUT?
So far, very little. Make sure you follow your district’s procedure, but basically you say you don’t want them to take the test, and they can sit it out. But the schools don’t have to keep them occupied for that time, and they may consider it an unexcused absence if they miss school without a doctor’s note on the day of testing. However, all this can change, and the policies may end up varying widely from state-to-state.
In December 2015, the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act was amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Before it was amended, the government administered the tests and required state assessments that had annual measurable objectives (AMOs) that determined adequate yearly progress (AYP).
Basically, this is a lot of acronyms that means states were accountable to the Federal government and were required to be able to use test results to show kids were learning year-to-year and were meeting standards. In order for the school to reach that adequate yearly progress, the schools had to ALSO have at least 95% of students tested in each group with 40 or more students. AFTER the act was amended, (and became the Every Student Succeeds Act-ESSA), the Federal government lost control over the standards and it became up to each state to administer tests and be responsible for the test and results. The AYP (which was universal across states) was removed, and each state is now responsible for creating and assessing the long-term goals of students. Schools are still required to have 95% of students and subgroups to be tested annually, but now the government can not take any action against states or districts that do not meet this participation rate. Further, school districts are required to inform parents and guardians of opt-out policies. After the 2016-17 school year, each state will need to develop new systems that are in-line with the rules. 1
So, at least for the 2016-17 year, opting out will have very little impact on your child. But that might change for the 2017-18 school year. For more state-specific information, contact the U.S. Department of Education Website for your state contact.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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