This week, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) reversed its previous decision and will now go ahead with administering PARCC to all eligible students. Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to share my experiences with PARCC assessment at a subject matter hearing before the Illinois House of Representatives. I think administering the assessment this year is the right decision. I use assessment every day, multiple times a day. Teachers know assessment, instruction and learning are explicitly linked. Assessment tells me what students know and what they still need to learn and helps me communicate information to students and parents. However, not all assessments are created equal. The assessments I use in my classroom have several key qualities in common. They are aligned with what I teach, include a diverse menu of high-quality questions, and provide me with relevant and meaningful feedback that I can use to improve instruction and share with students and their families. The PARCC represents this type of assessment. Here is how assessment works for Carlos. Carlos, like my other students, has been learning to add and subtract double-digit numbers. He easily mastered this skill and, on assessments, breezed through computation problems. He could also explain the steps he took to solve them (you borrow when subtracting and carry when adding). The data from the assessment told me not only that Carlos could fluently solve problems, but that he conceptually understood the process. My students next began to apply their computation skills to real-world problems. In-class assessments showed me that Carlos was struggling. He didn’t always perform the correct operations and gave answers that made little sense. He seemed to not understand what he needed to do to solve the problem. The immediate feedback from this in-class assessment told me that I needed to modify my instruction to ensure Carlos understood how to interpret problems. And because I had assessed his skill of addition and subtraction in multiple ways, I was able to pinpoint exactly what his misunderstandings were and form a plan to help him succeed immediately. The assessment allowed me to clearly communicate Carlos’s needs to him and to his parents so they could act on the data as well. The qualities of the PARCC assessment mirror the qualities of the assessment outlined in my work with Carlos. At last fall’s
Testing the Test event, a professional learning activity centered on educator review of PARCC, 400 Chicago teachers reviewed, discussed and provided feedback on PARCC test items. The teachers agreed that PARCC is a high-quality assessment. For example, the assessments in my math unit that helped Carlos learn to add and subtract were aligned with my instruction and the Common Core State Standards. This is imperative for a well-designed learning sequence. At the Chicago event, 71 percent of the participants said that PARCC is well aligned to the Common Core. The assessments that I used in my classroom measured Carlos’ understanding of addition and subtraction in multiple ways. Teachers want assessments that use a range of questions to test students’ understanding of content at a high and low level. At the same Chicago event, 89 percent of teachers said that PARCC is a higher quality assessment than the ISAT. Additionally, 77 percent of teachers said that PARCC assesses critical-thinking skills well or extremely well. It is fair to say that the roll out of the PARCC assessment in Chicago has been clumsy. Around the district, there was a lot of miscommunication about students taking PARCC and if so, at which schools and when. At the Chicago event this past fall, teachers said they do not feel ready to help their students prepare for the PARCC assessment and an overwhelming majority want more training and resources. It is our job as teachers, parents and community members to do everything we can to support students. We can best support them when we know that they are learning what is taught and what is expected. To do this, we need tests that are aligned to standards. The PARCC test is. We can best support students when we know exactly what skills they have and which ones they are still mastering. We need to know if students have mastered the challenging problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The PARCC test measures this. Finally, we can best support students if we get timely, meaningful feedback so we can act on it immediately. The PARCC test also does this. Now that all eligible students will take the PARCC this spring, CPS officials, administrators and teachers should use this as a learning opportunity to determine how state-mandated tests can be utilized and administered more effectively next year. CPS officials should ask administrators and teachers for feedback on the roll-out and administration of PARCC so they can plan and implement strategies and professional learning activities that meet the needs those giving the test. All stakeholders should reflect and evaluate the assessment and provide feedback to PARCC and CPS about what went well, what didn’t go well, and ideas they have to make the experience better for everyone.
This blog is adapted from a testimony given by Paige Nilson, a Chicago Public School Teacher, at a hearing before the Illinois House Committee on Education on February 25, 2015.
Paige Nilson teaches second grade at Hamilton Elementary in Chicago Public Schools. Originally from St. Louis, Paige earned her both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri. She is a Teach Plus Chicago Teaching Policy Fellow.