The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a coalition of states that are working to create and deploy a standard set of K-12 assessments in math and English. These are standardized tests to be given to all students in the participating states. My state, New Jersey, is one of the participating states. In order to determine how ready students are for college and careers when they graduate, our kids will be tested in March and then again in May. The tests this year are focused in Math and Language Arts, but I understand it will expand to all subject areas in the future.
Who does the test benefit? It certainly is not benefiting our students, teachers or our school system. Standardized testing is meant to standardize our teaching and if we want to produce cookie cutter robotic children who are all skilled at the same tasks, then I suppose we should embrace it. But if we acknowledge that each student is unique and their goals, strengths and weaknesses differ across the board, then what good does it do to measure how well our teachers teach by how well all of their students do on one type of test. A truly skilled teacher teaches our children to think and manage their way through different kinds of problems, issues and challenges. The best teachers acknowledge each unique student as the essential member of the classroom. They embrace everything unique about each one. They give their class a sense of self confidence about what is possible within their skill set and show them how much they can accomplish when they work hard to improve a skill. We must recognize that there is nothing standardized about teaching well. Teachers must customize their lesson plan so that each student can improve along the way.
Who does standardized teaching benefit? It is providing a metric so that governing bodies can judge how well each teacher guides their students to excel at taking the test. So if our teachers know that they only have a job if their students do well on the test, they will focus their lesson plan on the skills being measured by the test. So while it has been said that our teachers are not teaching to the test, I see my children’s homework assignments are in fact PARCC practice questions, and I know this is not true. It benefits the companies that profit from creating the test and the worksheets that train our students to take the test. It benefits the politicians who can claim they are improving our school system. But it will never benefit our students or our school system.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an activist. I am someone who must take a position on some of the most complex issues. I try to take a position based upon what is right for the majority. My own kids might benefit from taking a truly challenging test, but I do not know that for sure. They are both very smart, but I do not need the test to show me how intelligent they are. And I know their teachers know who they are and what they are capable of long before these tests occur.
But I am not making my decision about the PARCC test based upon what I suspect might be best for them. I believe that it is best for my community if children are taught math, science, language arts, foreign language, arts and music considering that some will excel in some areas and others will excel in others and a few will excel in all or none, but that this world has a place for everyone who wants to contribute in a meaningful way. Some kids will go to college, others will embrace a career that might not require a degree and some will try both. No PARCC test can predict readiness for college and career because no two colleges or two careers need the same type of readiness. I think it’s important we produce children who are confident in many skills and know that if they work hard enough, they can improve in all skills. I don’t think this test adds to that goal.
My family is talking about how we will handle the issue of PARCC testing. We have not yet made a decision. The activist in me wants my children to refuse to test in order to tell our politicians to step back and let the experts guide improving our schools. My husband wants my kids to take the test because he was challenged by the 8th grade Math sample test and he thinks they need to be challenged. My son wants to take the test, because he thinks he will do well on it and wants to find out. My daughter wants to be creative with the way she takes the test so that results will be meaningless. Neither of them wants to be singled out and treated differently than their peers. But I want them to have the courage to tell our governor to step back and let the teaching experts do what they do best.