Saturday, February 28, 2015

How &*%$ed Up is PARCC!?!

The Chicago Public Schools testing window for the first round of PARCC testing is set to begin in just over one week, from March 9th-April 2nd.  No one yet knows whether we will be forced to administer this exam.  Everyone at my school is on edge, wondering what will happen.  For now, all we know is that we need to prepare for this test as if it is happening, despite no official word from CPS.

Yesterday, we were all forced to sign a "Test Security Agreement and Schedule" and were informed that our whole staff will be required to take a mandatory, paid, after-school PD on PARCC.  Our administrators have also told us that all classes grades 3-8 will need to take the practice tests next week.  Some classes started administering these practice tests this past week, but gave up after an hour or so when students had only progressed through less than seven questions.

The scheduling alone is proving to be a logistical nightmare. The first "round" of PARCC consists of:
  • PBA Language Arts (3 Units): 105 minutes, 120 minutes, and 90 minutes
  • PBA Mathematics (2 units): 120 minutes and 105 minutes
(I thank the people who spoke at the ISBE PARCC hearings, because despite the fact that I'm expected to administer this ridiculous test in a few days, I had no idea how the test was divided up.)   And then there is another round of testing done at the end of the year:
  • EOY Language Arts (2 units): 90 minutes and 90 minutes
  • EOY Mathematics (2 units): 110 minutes and 105 minutes
Now, we just completed our Middle of the Year NWEA testing (the window was 1/5/15-1/29/15) and that in itself was highly disruptive and fraught with technical and logistical problems despite being a less time-consuming and less technologically demanding test compared to PARCC.  For NWEA, classes one by one took the test in the Library making that space unavailable for students or staff for nearly a month.  Our students with special needs were supposed to be tested in a separate locations, but as only our school counselor had access to the administration of the test, we ended up having to walk back and forth multiple times just to get the kids successfully into the program.  A bunch of our computers malfunctioned as well, sometimes kicking students off the test mid-way through causing mad scrambles to search out help during testing sessions.

And scheduling was a mess for students and staff for much of that testing window.  For example, at our school the 7th and 8th grade teachers are departmentalized (one teacher teaches Reading, one Math, one Social Studies to all the 7th and 8th grade students.)  So when one of the four classes was testing the other students could not switch classes as that teacher was with her homeroom class.  That meant, for an entire week, the seventh and eighth grade classes stayed in their homeroom class and did not receive instruction in any other subject but the subject taught by that teacher.  That homeroom teacher also was given the extra burden of figuring out activities for the students which they normally only saw one hour a day.

For special education, the scheduling problems were doubled.  All of our special education teachers teach more than one grade level.  So, when I was forced to administer tests to my students with special needs in one grade, the students in the other grades did not receive their IEP minutes.  For the teachers who teach self-contained classes, it was even worse, as their students who weren't testing had to spend the whole day in their general education classes, classes already burdened with being stuck in their homerooms all day, doing little work of value as a result.

Now that was just the NWEA which requires each class to take two testing sessions (one Reading, one Math).  The PARCC requires FIVE testing sessions this round alone.  And for each of those sessions at every grade level, students with special needs will need accommodations including testing in a separate location-space our school which was recently combined with a closed school after the school closings simply does not have,   These tests will throw off regular scheduling for nearly the entire window-that's almost four weeks of instruction.  Nevermind the large number of students who will need the make-up testing (our school, like many high-poverty schools, has low attendance and high mobility) and will miss instruction even after the regular testing ends.

And the end of the year testing schedule is even worse where PARCC and NWEA will overlap. The EOY schedule for PARCC is 4/27/15-5/22/15 and the NWEA is 5/11/15-6/12/15. Can someone explain to me how it is OK to put our school in utter disarray from April 27th until June 12th??  For the entire year so far, this means we would have the disrupted schedules for 4 weeks in January, 4 weeks in March, and 7 weeks in April, May, and June. That's fifteen weeks of testing!!!!  How many missed IEP minutes? How much lost instruction?  Our kids won't have access to our beautiful Library for months! 

And I haven't even touched upon the many ways these tests completely warp the learning in our school when we aren't actively testing.  PARCC and testing obsessions are destroying the joy of learning.  Nor have I talked about the massive amounts of money on these tests, the online test prep programs, and the technology upgrades being implemented solely to take these monstrous tests.  And the inappropriate and arbitrary raising of the difficulty of these tests guaranteed to fail most students, will cause all kinds of mental health and political repercussions.

There is no excuse for implementing this test  None. 


  1. PARCC will of course use the excuse that they created a Chromebook/ipad version of the test that does NOT require Java, but that is simply unacceptable and inexcusable. While Chromebooks are a growing presence in schools, they are still minority in terms of computer platform. And this still does not excuse the fact that they didn't build the PARCC so that it could run natively in a web browser. They also could have built a "lock down browser", much like NWEA did with the MAP, which would run as an independent program void of Java. And despite the fact that the NWEA testing app is time consuming to setup and install as well, it runs like a charm once testing begins. And top ALL of this off, our entire testing session went from 3 days to 2 full weeks (leading up to Spring Break) due to the PARCC not being able to support our entire middle school taking the test at once. PARCC’s response was that our network could flat out not support this many students (about 240) taking the test at once. This is completely false. Months before testing began we (IT) ensured that our school's network speed was at it's highest capacity (about 150 mbs down, which is probably as fast as any school in the country.) We also just recently spent over $15,000 in installing 25 new wifi access points across our schools campus. After doing their own diagnostic on our network, PARCC claimed that we are only able to support testing for 25 students at a time. This is an outrageous claim and I'm still trying to grasp that they came to that conclusion. For what it's worth we were finally able to test about 65 students per test session.

    Personally, I'm also primarily (deeply) concerned with the money involved in all this. The PARCC test was obviously created and is currently maintained by Pearson Inc; a private, for profit, multi-billion dollar corporation. It is sickening that a federally mandated nation wide test (at least the states that are complying) was sold off to such a contentious, money hungry edu software monopoly. Clearly there are different opinions on how public funds should be allocated towards educational programs/schools/computer software, but I'm of the STRONG opinion that these funds should stay in house. Why can't the Dept. of Education create a new wing of their org to support the PARCC? And why does every single educational contract seem to go to Pearson of all companies?? They have a blatant monopoly that is never talked about or touched upon. I have haven't even touched upon the fact that Pearson is heavily financed and backed by Koch Inc. I feel nauseous now.

    As I warned earlier, I’m rambling at this point, so apologies. And I have not mentioned the real and very troubling issues that relate to PARCC (disruption in the classroom as you so eloquently stated, ramifications of poor testing scores by students, consequences towards public school teachers if their students perform poorly, extreme difficulty of test material, etc.) In any event, I greatly appreciate your point of view I hope to hear more of your observations and opinions on this entire matter.

    Thank You,

    Concerned Citizen

  2. Please excuse grammatical errors/redundancies!