PARCC views from a NJ Teacher Of The Year

Below is a great opinion piece on the PARCC test; it offers a great look into the test results from a NJ teacher; a former teacher of the year. Not afraid, calling it as she sees it, and most importantly, lays it all out in a way all can understand. The original article can be found here.

By Maryann Woods-Murphy

New Jersey, like most states across the country, is in the midst of an educational revolution. Nationwide school districts have begun the difficult work of establishing a new baseline of student readiness that aligns with college and career expectations, and this year most passed an important milestone by administering tests aligned to these higher standards.The transition has not been perfect, nor without controversy. That’s not altogether surprising considering the magnitude of these efforts. During this critical moment in education, it helps to listen to the voices of educators. No other demographic knows the needs of our classrooms better, and no other group carries the responsibility for our young peoples’ success like educators do.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in research conducted by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. The study asked Teacher of the Year Award recipients and finalists to compare PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments with several other tests states used before. It was the first time educators sat down to consider these tests side by side, and the results were as striking as they were clear.
In near unanimous agreement, our work concluded that consortia assessments–PARCC and Smarter Balanced–do a better job of measuring student understanding, based on what they need to know to become ready for college and careers, and that they better reflect what teachers are teaching to meet higher academic expectations. 

From a teacher’s or parent’s perspective, those findings are important on several levels. Unlike old bubble tests, consortia exams require students to demonstrate they understand their material. Gone are the days when a student could guess his or her way to a right answer. Now they must work through a progression of questions, which provides insight into the logic behind how they arrived at an answer.

Student assessments are only one tool to measure student development. But they are an important one. Test data offers a snapshot of student comprehension and skill sets, which in turn empowers us to address learning needs and build on what’s working. With accurate information, teachers can tailor lesson plans, focus instruction and provide support to student need, whereas before the results often made it a guessing game.
Additionally, our research found that the content of consortia exams matches up well with what teachers are already teaching to help students reach more rigorous learning goals. That is an important hallmark of a high-quality assessment. It significantly alleviates pressures to “teach to the test,” which became a problem in recent years as a disconnect between tests and classroom instruction emerged. Now, because material aligns with classroom instruction, the best preparation is simply good teaching. 
Here in New Jersey, schools administered PARCC assessments for the first time this spring, and scores were made available in October. While the results were a dose of tough medicine, the transition should come as good news for parents and teachers alike. They are finally getting information that honestly reflects how well prepared students are measured against a high rubric–information that will support students at all achievement levels. 

The research adds to the evidence that reaffirms New Jersey is on the right path. To be sure, we are a long way from any kind of finish line. There are policy considerations officials must figure out, including ensuring that assessment results are decoupled from teacher evaluations until educators and students have a chance to acclimate to these new tests. But by using better tests we are on the right track toward better ensuring more students graduate high school fully prepared for their next steps. 
It would be easy to turn back to the old way of doing things, when most students were above average–as some policymakers have advocated. But doing so would continue to mask performance issues that set up our kids for failure. We saw the outcome of that path: In recent years, as many as 32 percent of New Jersey students entering four-year colleges and 70 percent of those at community colleges needed remedial classes before they could begin credit-bearing coursework.
In my work with children, I witnessed students rise to the high expectations set forth by New Jersey’s Common Core Standards. Equipped with the best assessments available, educators will help more students reach those goals. PARCC and Smarter Balanced may not be perfect, but they are an improvement over New Jersey’s old tests, and they put us on the right trajectory to ensure more students develop the skills and knowledge to succeed in the educational careers

Maryann Woods-Murphy is a New Jersey teacher and recipient of the 2010 New Jersey Teacher of the Year Award. She serves as an America Achieves Fellow and was a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow in 2011.

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