Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pearson Jumps the Shark on PARCC

We are truly in deep PARCC mode now. Perhaps the April/May test administration should include readings from the Pentagon Papers.

Pearson Education, the company that produces the PARCC tests, and is reportedly being paid over $22 million dollars in New Jersey alone, is monitoring social media to check for security breaches and other untoward activity.  The latest example is in the Watchung Hills Regional school district, where evidently a student tweeted a test question and Pearson was able to flag it. The company then contacted the New Jersey Department of Education, which then contacted the school district. A fuller discussion is here. I can certainly understand test security because every teacher in New Jersey is warned annually that any data breach can result in the loss of their teaching license.

In the new testing world, though, the students may control the balance of power. Think about it: The new tests are being given exclusively on computers to an audience that, shall we say, is less than enthusiastic about sitting for hours to complete them. Students also have access to the Internet on their own devices. Mix in the politics of test refusal and the widely acknowledged fact that these tests count for zilch to the people who are taking them, and you have a messy brew that was just waiting to foam over. And think again if you think this is only happening in New Jersey.

Testing has always been a part of education and the PARCC is just another in a long line that stretches back decades. What's upset many more people about these particular tests is that they are tied to the Common Core Curriculum Standards, which are unpopular on both the right and the left, and which most school districts just implemented formally this past September. That means that students in grades 3-11 have only had six months with which to work with some new, sophisticated concepts. How are these tests going to do anything except tell us that we have more work to do? What's worse, many parents and teachers with college educations and advanced degrees have taken the practice tests and have been flummoxed by what PARCC says are the correct answers.

The tests are also unpopular because they are being administered over a couple of weeks in two separate time frames; one now and one during late April or early May. This is taking an extraordinary amount of time away from classroom teaching and learning that is, presumably, the point of having children go to school and hiring teachers to instruct and mentor them. As someone who teaches Advanced Placement courses, I can tell you that this schedule has put enormous pressure on me to find time to properly prepare students for the early May AP tests while they are also taking the PARCC.

Then there is Pearson Education (remember Pearson Education? This is a column on Pearson Education). They will be paid about $22 million dollars for the tests in NJ, which is below the original estimate, but it's still a great deal of money. Now the company is trolling through social media, monitoring student behavior and expecting that nobody will ever talk about the tests in a world where we are all connected.

This will not help schools and states that are trying to limit the number of students who are refusing to take the tests, and could possibly lead to more students not taking them in April/May. In the high school where I teach, approximately 35% of eligible students are not taking the tests. When I was proctoring the tests last week I did notice that a number of students were logging on to the test program on their computers, cycling through the pages in about 30 seconds, then taking out a book to read. Civil disobedience is alive and well.

Every social movement has its tipping point. This could be the one for Pearson and PARCC.

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5 comments:

  1. Thanks for this nice article. Keep it up. :)

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  2. So, the test scores from students who filled in random answers will be counted the same as those from students who tried really hard when it comes to teacher evaluations? And I know of at least a few students whose ELA essays were on how PARCC sucks (they told me so). That the decision makers in Trenton can't see how utterly ridiculous this whole thing is speaks volumes about their inability to think critically and make sound judgments.

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  3. Sorry, I didn't see this comment until today. The assumption was that students would do as well as they could on the tests, but that clearly is not the case. It will be interesting to see the results.

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