Theater Masks

Theater Masks

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

PARCC

     I don't usually use this space to write about school, but yesterday was so disturbing and scary to me, that I feel I hvae no real choice. I need to write about it, and I need to make this as public as I am able. I don't have a wide audience right now, but every person who learns a little more about this test is another person who can possibly stand up to it.
     Yesterday we had a professional development day. In the morning we had a doctor come in to speak to us about dyslexia. It wasn't the most interesting speech, to be sure, but one detail from it stuck with me: 20% of people have some form of dyslexia.  This is important as we move into the PARCC testing samples later in the day.
     Before I start, I am saying that I am NOT giving away any questions here. I'm not sure I legally can (as ridiculous as that is) but I'm going to outline the problems with the test that I saw below. 

     First, we got to sample the math portion of the test. Content-wise, I didn't see many problems with the questions the kids are being asked. There was one question on the sample that could have been worded far more clearly than it was, but all in all the questions were reasonable. What wasn't reasonable was the means for entering the questions into the system. For example, one answer came out as d x 1/4, or the value d times one quarter. As you can see, here, it is difficult to write this CLEARLY.  On the test, there's a fraction button, where you can type the numerator and denominator, but then placing the d becomes tricky. If you don't space it out, the d ends up in the denominator. Is typing *1/4 space d* correct? Do you need a multiplication sign in there? How about a dot? Does the test know that the two next to each other is correct? We're not sure. Another question asked the kids to take a series of twenty numbers and show them on a bar graph by raising or lowering the bars on a pre-existing graph. That's all well and good, but there's no way to cross out the numbers you used already so it's VERY easy for the students to miss one, thereby causing them to get the problem wrong. It took me about 4 minutes to move the bars, check my answer, realize I missed one number and go back and figure out what I missed. They say that you should triple the time it takes you to answer any given question for the kids. How are they going to do this in time?
      A third problem. One question asked you to look at a selection of answers (true, false, not enough information) and move the correct answer into the provided boxes. I purposely put an answer I knew was wrong to see what would happen when I wanted to change it. Turned out, I needed to call over three different people to figure out how to change a wrong answer.  
     I teach sixth graders. While yes, we should have the ability to help the kids with this stuff, each QUESTION type is different and has a different set of ways to answer them. I don't know how we're going to get the kids to do this work on the computer and still focus on the actual MATH they're being asked to do.

      The sad thing is the math section is relatively easy compared to the language arts section of the test.  I will say this, the actual MECHANIC is fairly easy to use. I didn't have much difficulty with that - crossing off answers, using a line reader - none of that was particularly difficult. What frightens me about the LA section of this test is how incredibly difficult it is.  
      For each section of the test, the kids have to read two passages (or two passages and watch a video) and then answer questions. To begin, two of the four passages I read were written in the 1800s.  The language is going to sound foreign to the kids - they do not have the education (nor should they) to be able to figure out writing by the likes of Kate Chopin yet. This is WAY above a sixth graders ability developmentally.
      The first question in each section asks the kids about a word and, according to the selection, give a definition of it. No problem there - kids have been asked questions like that for years.  The followup question on the other hand is to give evidence of the word from a sentence in the passage. The answer choices are sentences from the passage completely unrelated to the word - you have to guess what the test maker was thinking might somehow relate to the word -- somehow. I wasn't really clear on the directions, and I certainly had no idea what the answers were. The connections made were tenuous at best, and I'd be willing to bet without too much trouble that kids could come up with rationales for multiple answers - that is if they understand the question to begin with.
     Later questions ask students to pick out a supposed conflict in a passage and then from a list of seven or eight choices choose the three that are sequential evidence of that conflict. This is difficult work. Given enough time, sure, some of the kids can do this. Given time pressure, the necessities of using a computer, and the difficulty of the question itself, I worry that most kids will not be able to do this.  Again, I teach sixth graders.
     The final question in each section is an essay. Note, there is no longer a separate writing piece, thereby completely devaluing writing as an important, useful skill. Questions include things like write an essay on the theme of _______, use evidence from the two passages to compare and contrast them. These are the types of questions I give my students for three week long assignments - not 1/2 hour writes after they've read two passages and already answered another 4-6 difficult questions about the selections. 
      Oh, and did I mention that we don't know how long the kids will have to do these tests? We were told 40-80 minutes (a MASSIVE difference - one is way too short, the other is FAR too long to expect sixth graders to be able to focus) but we don't really know yet.
       I am predicting that there are going to be massive failures across the state. Christie's proclamations that schools are failing (despite our being ranked number one or number two in every ranking of schools nationwide in the last year) will appear to be true. Plain and simple, my kids CANNOT do this test. It is way too difficult and too iffy on the computer. There will be lots of tears and lots of frustration over this test (not to mention we have to give the test TWICE). 
       I am very upset by what I saw yesterday. There is nothing good about this test (oh, did I mention that we as teachers never actually get to see the results of the test?  No, well, I still have no idea how my students did last year on the NJASK - those results are spread out all over the school with individual teachers - I'd have to go track them all down - who has that kind of time?)  and, come next summer, you're going to see a rash of ineffective teachers being blamed for the kids' unfortunate failures.
      Don't be fooled - these tests are designed to do just that.
      Given the speech we heard in the morning regarding dyslexics, the difficulties these tests are going to present is frightening. 
      I'm disappointed in what I saw on these samples. My hope is that they can be improved significantly before they are put in front of the kids, but I know that is probably a pipe dream.

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