PARCC Reflections

You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.

Over the past several weeks discussion about the PARCC assessment has dominated the airwaves and dinner tables.  Parents and educators vary widely on this topic, and I am often asked my thoughts about PARCC.  This is a difficult question to answer for a couple of reasons.  First, we haven’t received the results from the assessment, so it is hard to assign value to the assessment when we don’t know how useful the results are.  Second, I feel this is a larger question about accountability in schools.  My initial thoughts about the assessment are that it takes a great deal of time and resources to prepare for and administer.  This time could be better spent lesson planning and teaching our core curriculum.  Based on conversations that I have had with other educators, the extended time PARCC requires is a universal frustration.  With that said, I would like to unpack each of the above points.

An assessment is only as good as the data it yields.  The time we have spent on PARCC may be worth it if we get individualized student data that allows us to modify our instruction to better meet students’ needs.  If the data provides us information about subareas that our teachers can focus on and group students according to need, then I can see value in this assessment.  However, if the test is a rehash of the old ISAT and the data is simply used to rank our schools, or worse our teachers, then I would have a hard time getting on board.  I appreciate the approach our district has taken as that we have reserved judgement until we have completed the process and analyzed the results.  This, “Cooler heads prevail” allows us to make an informed decision and either advocate for the test or advocate for change.

Schools have a responsibility to be accountable to stakeholders (students, parents, and community members).  I am an advocate of accountability and a model of continuous improvement.  However, using a high stakes test to force accountability isn’t the way to get results.  Forced accountability is a surefire way to get teachers teaching to the test and a high turnover rate in the principal’s office.  Schools need to have control over their improvement, and rigorous accountability measures should be built into these improvement projects.  Top down accountability that doesn’t take the uniqueness of each school into account is destined to fail.  When we look at the effectiveness of our schools we need to look at more than a single measure given at a single moment at the end of the year.  Tying school funding or teacher’s jobs to a single measure doesn’t take the complexities of the jobs schools need to do and is therefore a flawed model.  In Wilmette we have built accountability into every initiative in which we embark.  These measures are customized to allow us to know if we hit the mark or need to make course corrections.  This model allows for real improvement.

In the coming weeks and months the merits of PARCC and assessments will continue to be debated.  Some will praise this measure as the saviour of public education, and others will vilify the test as the downfall of our schools.  In the end if the test helps teachers to better serve their students then the value will be evident.  If not, it may be back to the drawing board.

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