As the sun came up Saturday morning, I was bound for UMass Boston for a day filled with testing. I don’t mean I was being tested. Phew! I was asked by TeachPlus to join a group of teachers who came together in an effort to analyze and give feedback on the next generation of standardized tests for students. Feedback groups were assembled in cities such as Boston, Chicago, DC, Memphis and Nashville.
As we all know, MCAS has been around for about 17 years. With the onset of the Common Core in 2010, there has been a need to improve testing to reflect the critical thinking and hard work students are doing in schools. To this end, a consortium of many Common Core states came together and are developing the PARCC test. Some students already field tested the computer-based assessment last spring, and Falmouth students will be taking the PARCC (instead of MCAS) as part of a pilot program this year. With feedback from field tests, pilots and teacher reviews, the folks at PARCC will improve and adjust their product so it is rigorous, engaging, well-aligned to the common core, and appropriate for each grade level.
On Saturday we spent a lot of time analyzing the variety of question types on both the ELA and Math portions of the PARCC. We used an extensive rubric to evaluate whether or not the tests met the criteria for high-quality assessments.
I can say without a doubt these tests will measure what students know, understand and are able to do. MCAS questions were limited in their variety. Students either chose a multiple choice option, wrote a short answer, or composed an open response. Students now will answer multiple choice questions where they may have to choose more than one right answer. They may have to defend why they chose a multiple choice answer by finding evidence in the text. They will drag-and-drop information to organize tables and graphic organizers. They will compare multiple pieces (written and video) and compose written responses using those sources as evidence. They will complete multi-step math problems where process and understanding are key to the solution. They will use many dynamic digital tools to organize and explain their thinking.
I feel good about the fact that the PARCC test developers and the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education heard our hopes, concerns, criticism and praise. As teachers, we were given a voice on Saturday, and I am learning what a powerful thing Teacher Voice is. We want our students to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged and we all know tests are not the only measure of a whole child. While the system is not perfect, we are making strides in the right direction to improve education for all students. Thank you for your support this year as we scaffold students through a rigorous curriculum and find the balance between Play and Preparedness.
These tests will reflect the understanding students are developing as they become ready for college and careers over time. Though that “finish line” may seem so very far off from where we sit in 4th grade, I can assure you it is right around the corner. My daughter is finishing her Senior year in high school, and my son will be taking the MCAS for his (hopefully) final time this year as a Sophomore as part of his graduation requirement. They were little just yesterday, believe me! Their path towards who they will become is already being paved, and they are charting their own course. I can only hope there will be many folks lighting the journey for them along the way.
Thank you to those who made it to Meet The Teacher night. It was great meeting everyone! Also, thank you for returning your parent surveys. SO valuable!
Remember tomorrow is our first Early Release. Be sure to send in a note if your child’s dismissal plan changes. Thank you!!