Testing the Test: Lessons Learned from the PARCC Field Test

The PARCC consortium has provided an update on the results of its field-testing of the new Common Core-aligned assessments. And if you were taking an old state bubble test about the update, you might see a question like this:
What’s the purpose of the field test?
  1. Test the test
  2. Evaluate draft administration procedures
  3. Stress test the technology
  4. Inform operational year policy making
  5. All of the above
But if you were taking a Core-aligned assessment on the field-test update, you might see a question like this:
More than one million students in 16,000 schools participated in the new assessment’s field test. As the state officials and educators leading this effort, what type of questions would you want answered as part of this pilot to improve the tests for the first operational year to ensure they are providing the right feedback to be able to assess and analyze the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills of our students?
Welcome to the next generation of assessments!

A Smooth Trial Run

In the PARCC Field Test: Lessons Learned report, PARCC states outline how they are using last spring’s field-test experience to collect and analyze their key findings and map out planned improvements for the full roll-out this spring. While there has been some noise and conjecture about the readiness of the assessment, the data from the report demonstrates that the field test went smoothly and that PARCC is on the right track. Highlights from the report:
  • Item-level data from the field test indicate that a large majority of the items developed for the PARCC assessments over the past several years performed well. That is, students understood the questions and responded appropriately.
  • Generally speaking, students across grades, even those in elementary school, were able to successfully use the computer-based test (CBT) delivery system, including keyboarding their answers to short and extended questions, scrolling through reading passages, and moving from one question to the next.
  • Students told observing researchers that they found the computer-based assessments engaging.
  • More than 90 percent of students said that they had sufficient time to complete the test.
  • Approximately half of students said that it was easy to use the online calculator (which, nonetheless, is being revised for the 2014–15 administration).
  • Just over half (55 percent) of test coordinators reported that the student tutorial was useful for students to become familiar with PARCC items, tools, and functionalities of the computer-based delivery platform.
  • Just under half (46 percent) of test coordinators and test administrators indicated that information in the test administration manuals was sufficiently comprehensive.

Listening and Learning

The report also acknowledges that the field test provided needed and useful information to inform improvements for the spring. These include such updates and revisions as:
  • Upgrading the assessment delivery platform.
  • Revising tutorials to include a full array of tools, accessibility features, and item-computer interactions.
  • Conducting a third-party verification and validation of the technology platform’s performance.
  • Expanding practice tests to include paper-based tests and additional components (performance-based and end-of-year assessments in both content areas).
  • Revising manuals and training modules.
  • Revising general directions on the tests, especially the mathematics tests, to make them clearer.
While PARCC continues to do its part to make sure the assessment is ready for prime time, the rubber is going to really hit the road in the classrooms across the country. It’s vital that educators as well as district and school leaders continue to communicate and prepare for the new tests. This transition is not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it; these tests are a much needed improvement on the status quo. Remember, tests are simple tools and resources to help and inform. It’s the teaching and learning in the classroom that’s going to deliver on the promise of supporting all students to be ready for college and career success.
Ann Whalen
Ann Whalen is senior advisor to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Prior to returning to the U.S. Department of Education, she served as the director of policy for Education Post. Whalen has served more than five years in the Obama Administration with the U.S. Department of Education. At the department, Ann was director of the Implementation and Support Unit, providing technical assistance to ...

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