PARCC Testing in Public Schools

A Brief Overview

An Introduction to PARCC

PARCC is an acronym for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The PARCC test is one of two tests created following Barack Obama's and Arne Duncan's Race to the Top initiative. Since Lyndon B. Johnson implemented the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, the federal government directly been involved in public education. Race to the Top was conceived in 2010 with four intentions, according to

  1. Development of rigorous standards
  2. Adoption of better data systems to provide schools, teachers, and parents with information about student progress
  3. Support to make teachers and school leaders more effective
  4. Increased emphasis and resources for the rigorous interventions needed to improve low performing schools

The Common Core State Standards were created to address the development of rigorous standards, and subsequently PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium were created to hold public schools accountable for meeting these standards.

What You Need to Know about the CCSS and PARCC Testing

Though Race to the Top necessitates the development of rigorous standards, there is no federal mandate that requires every state to adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Instead, a state can opt to create their own set of rigorous education standards as an alternative. According to the "Standards in Your State" section of the Common Core State Standard's website (2015), 42 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the CCSS.

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Each state, however, has their own individual plan for implementation. These plans can be seen by hovering over the state on the website's map and subsequently clicking on the link to the state's website. The state of Illinois, for example, committed to full implementation of the K-12 language arts and mathematics standards by the 2013-2014 school year in all of its public schools. Illinois felt the CCSS were worthwhile to adopt because "by emphasizing depth over breadth, the Common Core State Standards ensures that students have comprehensive understanding of key concepts" ("New Illinois Learning Standards - Math/ELA," n.d.).

Following adoption, school districts began to implement the CCSS throughout the 2011-2012 school year. According to communication published by the Illinois State Board of Education, all public school districts were expected to implment the CCSS by the fall of 2013. There was then a gradual transitioning of standardized testing questions to reflect the CCSS. In the spring of 2014, 500 school districts across the state of Illinois piloted the PARCC test prior to all public school districts in the state implementing the PARCC test in the 2014-2015 school year ("Assessment: PARCC-partnership for assessment of readiness for college and careers," n.d.).

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The remaining states that did not adopt the CCSS instead decided to create their own comparable educational standards. According to Allie Bidwell (2014), reporter for US News and World Report, many of these state-created standards are taken verbatim from the CCSS, and the few that are not the same appear to be less clear than those written in the CCSS. So why not simply adopt the CCSS like the rest of the states?

"Looking at it from afar, it seems like a case where politics were prioritized over getting the content right," says senior policy advisor at the College Board Kathleen Porter-Magee (Bidwell, 2014). It seems that simply renaming or tweaking some of the CCSS has been a strategic successful political move that has gotten positive voter support since the CCSS have been somewhat controversial.

Regardless of the standards used, every state was required to provide a new standardized test to correspond with the new standards and Race to the Top's request for better data systems to provide schools, teachers, and parents with information on student growth. Based on the data collected by Gewertz and Ujifusa (2015) of Education Week, states exercised a variety of standardized testing options for the 2014-2105 school year. Eighteen states elected to take the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, 10 states plus Washington D.C. took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, and 21 states utilized another standardized achievement test such as the ACT Aspire test or a state-created test like the Georgia Milestones Assessment. All testing systems claimed to be aligned to either the CCSS or the more rigorous state-created standards. On the map below, notice the only "undecided" state of Massachusetts. Each public school district in the state was given the option of utilizing either the PARCC test or the state's own test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (Gewertz, 2015). A state-wide decision will be made for the 2015-2016 school year.

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Changes to PARCC: Our Current Situation

Following the first full implementation of the PARCC test in the spring of 2015, Pearson provided students with the opportunity to provide feedback via a survey at the end of both the ELA and mathematics testing sessions. As a result of this survey, as well as feedback provided from educators, there have been some design changes to the PARCC test to be given during the 2015-2016 school year.

  • Testing time will be reduced by about 90 minutes overall (60 minutes in mathematics, 30 minutes in English language arts).
  • The two testing windows will be consolidated into one, which will simplify administration and scheduling. The testing window for schools will be up to 30 days extending from the 75 percent mark to the 90 percent mark of the school year. Schools have the flexibility to schedule student testing within this time period.
  • The number of test units will be reduced for all students.
("PARCC states vote to shorten test time and simplify test administration," May 21, 2015).
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Number of Testing Units

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Despite reducing the testing minutes by approximately 90 minutes in all grade levels, this will not impact the performance task components of the English language arts or mathematics tests, with the exception of the Algebra II and Integrated Math III tests at the high school level (PARCC Test Design Changes, 2015). The field-testing for future test items will also be integrated into the same testing window as opposed to acting as a stand-alone test as it was in the spring of 2015.

In addition to reviewing the logistics of testing, PARCC also created a bias and sensitivity review panel. This group of K-12 educators and higher education administrators met for three days in Denver in April, 2015, to review draft PARCC test questions for possible bias and insensitivity. Debbie Stenecky, a teacher of English language learners, was a part of this review panel. The panel was asked to look for questions which could stereotype groups of people based on "gender, race, ethnicity, language, religion, socioeconomic status, disability or geographic location" as well as look for questions that may included "any reference or language in an item that might cause a student to have an emotional reaction during the test administration [preventing] a student from being able to demonstrate ability" (Stenecky, 2015). The panel used the PARCC Fairness Guidelines to examine questions from both mathematics and English/language arts tests at all grade levels. Based on the panel's reviews, questions were either approved or rejected, and any question with even a single question of concern was documented even if the group as a whole decided to approve the question. Any objections would then be discussed at a further stage of test question screening so PARCC can create a test that is as fair as possible.

In spite of the aforementioned testing revisions, as of November 6, 2015, the Education Commission of the States reported that only seven states (Illinois being one of them) and Washington D.C. are planning on administering the full PARCC test in the spring of 2016. Fourteen of the 15 states who remain members of the SBAC will administer the full assessment in the spring of 2016, while at least 25 states will opt to test students in grades 3-8 via a state-specific assessment.
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In the Barrington Community Unit School District, the testing window will take place in April, though the exact dates have yet to be established. Unlike last year, the students will complete the full PARCC test in one week of class time. At all grade levels, the students will take the PARCC test on one-to-one devices. All middle school students in grades 6-8 will be using their iPads, high school students will use Mac Books, and elementary school students will be using either an iPad, netbook, or desktop computer.

Recommendations for Implementation

While we do not want testing preparation to overtake your daily commitments to optimal student learning, we do want to ensure students and parents are well-informed and prepared for the upcoming PARCC test in the spring. The Illinois State Board of Education (2015) has compiled numerous resources to help you, as teachers, communicate with your students and their parents. In the upcoming months, you will find revised and updated resources in the "Handouts for Parents" section which you can use as talking points as you begin communicate with parents about the PARCC test. The building administration will also be sending out email blasts to the parents, as well as posting copies of the communication on our website, so parents will receive a common message.

We do hope math and English teachers will engage their students in one practice test within their content areas so students understand how to use the device appropriately to answer the test questions. The math and English tests are structured differently, and we want our students to understand how to manipulate the screen to adequately answer the questions. The "PARCC Primer: Technology and the Test" section has helpful resources for this, like this document that provides guidance on leading students through a practice test.

Finally, the most important point to remember is that the well-being of our students and their learning always comes first. While we do want our students to do well on the PARCC test, we acknowledge there are many other ways to account for student learning. As Barrington 220 educators, we trust in your abilities to use best practices throughout the school year to promote student growth. Because of your efforts, we know our students will be well-prepared for the academic content of the PARCC test.

Thank you for your hard work and all you do for our students each and every day!