Friday, June 12, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Standardized flip-flop-flip

The state might have wasted nearly three months of students’, teachers’ and principals’ time this past school year administrating the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test.

Arkansas had scrapped it in favor of an ACT test called Aspire, or at least that’s what the governor and lieutenant governor thought before the state school board stomped on their recommendation and opted to keep the PARCC test even though complaints about the test are rampant through the state and the country.

“We’re not going to do PARCC anymore. It’s done,” Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin recently told a group of legislators.


Why not go with the governor and lieutenant governor’s suggestion, especially after Griffin and his task force, appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have heard from hundreds of concerned parents around the state?

More than likely, it’s a money issue.

The PARCC group was given $350 million in federal funds to develop the test, and Arkansas is paying for part of that. `The Education Department has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request asking for the exact figures.

Of all the complaints about Common Core, the testing problems resonated the most with the lieutenant governor and his task force assessing that curriculum.

When it came to testing this year, dozens of schools and districts cried foul. Most in the area did not do well, while Cabot excelled on the test. Counselors were used as test administrators and the task — not part of their job description — tied them up for almost three months during which time they conducted no classes and counseled very few students.

The test, which is administered on computers, at most schools tied up computer labs and classroom computers, too, because of broadband issues not allowing students to work on Powerpoints or even do simple research for projects.

But what was really being tested? Common Core knowledge or the ability to use the computer keyboard?

And many schools did not offer keyboarding instruction for students before the test.

The computerized format creates challenges, as it is more accessible to kids who’ve grown up with iPads in their hands and attended technologically-advanced schools.

A superintendent in New Jersey, one of many states not happy with the PARCC test, said, “It’s like telling our teachers, ‘We’ll teach you how to drive.’ But then the test says you won’t be driving cars. You’ll be driving boats.”

Testing has been a thorn in Arkansas’ side for the past couple of years.

Common Core has been the official curriculum of the state for three years, but this past year was the first time the state actually tested Common Core using a Common Core-based test.

So, how were students tested in the first two years of Common Core? With the state standard-based Benchmark exam, which was not aligned with Common Core even though one of the mantras of teaching is to test what is taught. Why was the Benchmark used?

Because the state had a seven-year contract with the company that produced the Benchmark exam and there were two years left on the contract when Common Core was being implemented. And there wasn’t a Common Core test available yet.

So the state changed the curriculum with no way of testing it.

Griffin has said that the ACT Aspire test requires less testing time (it can be done in a day) than PARCC, that it is geared toward college readiness, that ACT is well known in Arkansas and across the nation, and that switching from PARCC to ACT Aspire was acceptable to most of his review council’s members. Many lawmakers and educators in Colorado think it is foolish to give the PARCC and become a guinea pig for an unproven program.

Griffin and his task force are still on their listening tour with stops still planned in Batesville, Pine Bluff and Fort Smith. After that, the panel will make a decision on Common Core standards, which may be tweaked, repackaged or renamed, but it will still be Common Core.

Switching to the ACT test from the PARCC would have put us back to where we were two years ago — teaching one thing and testing another.

Just imagine if the state put students first. A student might say: “Every day I love to go to school. We learn, and learn, and learn. And then occasionally we take a test.” Do the tests effectively assess your learning? “Yes, absolutely!”

Rather than: “We do practice tests and practice tests and more practice tests. And then we do the real thing. We take a lot of tests.” But do you learn from the tests? “Not really.”