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PARCC is missing the point – edu|FOCUS
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PARCC test

PARCC is missing the point

I went onto the PARCC website to poke around and decided to try out one of the sample test items for the 6-11 grade range (which is a pretty broad range, but I digress). After spending a little time with the test as an adult, I realized, clearly PARCC is missing the point.

To start, I was able to get a tutorial on how the new fully computerized test would work – that I had tools available to help me get answers (on the math portion) and could “flag” questions that I wanted to skip and come back to. Then I was told I had 2 hours to complete the section and started; and I promptly remembered why I hated standardized tests so much as a student.

Regardless of how advanced the method of test-taking may be it doesn’t replace the fact that the ways students are being assessed is not productive or effective. The reading comprehension portion that I sampled was the same basic formula that I remember from my grade school days in that there were text excerpts to read, and then answer questions based on what we had gathered.

I personally have a few problems with this format, one being that it is a standardized test, which is naturally stressful enough on its own, and made me constantly second guess myself on all my answers (even though I am a college graduate, and usually fairly confident in my comprehension abilities). Second, making a teenage student sit in a room with her peers with a strict time limit, test taking atmosphere, and pressure to do well because her school’s funding depends on it isn’t the most productive use of her school day. Admittedly, it was nice switching between my multiple-choice answers without worrying about eraser marks, but I’m sure that when you have a classroom of students on computers there is bound to be some technological hiccup that could take away more time. Plus, setting aside two hours of my day (at the most) to complete one section is a major waste of my day, so I can only imagine how much valuable time would be wasted having to sit for 2 hours a day per test category during a school day where I could be learning something more useful than how to take a test.

But the biggest issue I had was with the questions themselves. I only finished half of the reading comprehension test because I started getting bored (which is another issue altogether), but more importantly, I started over-thinking and making up ways to justify different answers that might not have been the “correct” one. Seeing that the multiple choice answers are formatted as two wrong answers, one possible one, and one more strongly correct answer, I could use ways to justify either possibility using textual evidence (they were big on finding evidence in the texts). And even though one answer was stronger than the other in terms of grading, if a student could eloquently justify herself on the other possibility, who’s to say that her comprehension skills are bad? Yes, the essay portion would shed more light on her argumentative abilities, but that doesn’t seem to be the point. When asking to interpret a piece of writing, each person has a different view on what may be the most important aspect based on his/her own life experiences.

For example, the online sample test has you read excerpts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and draw conclusions in a two part multiple choice format.

Screenshot of PARCC sample question from PARCConline.org

That question asking what is an important theme about human nature is too open-ended; there are so many possibilities to that answer that don’t fit in a standardized multiple choice question. Who is the theme important to? What kind of person? Achieving one’s dreams was worthwhile to which character? Who says the results weren’t worthwhile, even if the positive reward was only for a short time? Was the youth really so thoughtless since we have no other context as to how he lived his life? Are we talking about human nature today, or during the time the piece was written? I could go on for ages (although granted, I did major in English in college).

The grading system on this PARCC test, as taken from the website, only gives full credit if the student answers both part A and B correctly, and partial credit if only A is correct. But if the student doesn’t agree with the answer to part A and can use samples from part B to justify another choice, is that not using the same kind of rationale the test is supposed to be assessing? But the student only gets credit for agreeing with one very particular set of circumstances, so how would anyone know? Personal interpretation can’t be standardized.

There has to be a more efficient way to assess student growth and comprehension than the test question formats of the past. Clearly, PARCC misses that mark.

Tracey Woodard
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