PARCC and SBAC — Promises. Promises, Promises…

There is no shortage of news around Common Core and the New Assessments that the United States Federal Government has invested 360 million to develop using one of two consortium’s.  Your state could choose either to join Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

During my tenure at the Ohio Department of Education as the Associate Superintendent, I would frequently make presentations to Superintendents, Principals and Teachers.  Those presentations contained several promises for the implementation of Ohio’s Next Generation of Assessments.

I decided this week to look back at those Power Points to see exactly what we told those stakeholders about the Next-Generation of  Assessments:

  1. Measure students’ mastery of Common Core State Standards:
  2. Include a range of item types that allow for the assessment of higher-order skills:
  3. Leverage new technologies in assessment and reporting to get actionable student data to educators and parents in real time;
  4.  Provide a common measure of college and career readiness, mitigating challenges associated with student mobility by ensuring students will have the same expectations wherever they live;
  5.  Provide more readily available and useful data to inform classroom practices;
  6.  Provide opportunities to test students’ high level, critical thinking skills that are difficult to test in our current system;
  7.  Create test that look more like games and utilize technology-enhanced items;
  8.  Have flexible timelines so students can take the assessment when they are ready;
  9. Clearly determine whether students are college and career ready or on track; and
  10. Compare performance across states and internationally.

When I look at the above list you can imagine why so many stakeholders around the state would embrace the change especially when the current system of Ohio Graduation Test and Ohio Achievement Test were simply outdated.

Additionally, almost everyone recognized that the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) and Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) encourage “drill and kill” teaching  methods, and a dumbing down of course material to insure passage on an assessments that utilized a very low cut score, Ohio students could score as low as a 35% and still pass the assessment.  I think everyone recognized the need for a change especially when we used these low markers to  declare every school”Excellent.”

Fast forward to the current administration of these NEW and improved assessments and lets look at the above list and VERY few of those items have come to fruition.  It is true that we have online testing with  items that utilize technology they however are not like games, nor will they ever be like games, since  the test developers cannot employ game like developers to create environments and questions  similar in quality to what kids experience when playing Xbox or PlayStation.

What has frustrated the field is all the other promises left unfulfilled at this juncture.  Testing is still disruptive, in fact this new system has managed to be even more disruptive than the old system.  It is more time consuming and has spawned a movement that questions the very usage of these assessments with kids all together.

The results we are told will not be available until sometime next school year.  The whole purpose of a high quality assessment is to be used to inform a teachers instruction.  The promise of faster results would allow teachers to tailor instruction to meet individual student needs, as of yet this is another unfulfilled promise.

Another clear frustration is the lack of flexible windows for testing.  Right now testing windows are static everyone across the state must test on these dates.  The appeal of the new assessments was the elimination of this archaic idea.  Students should take those assessments when they are ready not when the state says they must.  To further complicate this debacle the new end of course exams in the high school were supposed to replace the current usage of a final exam.  But because he company cannot get the results back in a timely fashion those end of course exams will be taken in some cases 45 days before the end of the course.    As a teacher with 45 days of instruction you will give a second final despite all students completing the end of course assessment developed by PARCC or SBAC.

I could continue on and on looking at the above list, taking issue with each of the 10 promises that  are clearly unfulfilled at this juncture, but the bigger question that is not in the list of promises it is  simply “is this  good for kids?”  Does all of this make any sense?  Is this just another salvo in the  Teacher Wars? What or who are we doing this for? In the end what do we hope to achieve?

What I do know to be a fact — no one is clearly articulating answers or arguments as to why we need to do this in public education. Not one person has emerged to clearly make a sound,  thoughtful argument as to why we are doing what we are doing and what we hope to achieve in the end. I certainly hope that after 360 million dollars spent to develop these assessments it is much more than simply comparing ourselves to China or Finland!

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About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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