Board of Education Meeting Comments 11/17/2014
By Lynn Fedele
Central Services has been very busy lately trying to sell the benefits of the PARCC to the Montclair community. Having recently attended a PARCC workshop and having read Superintendent MacCormack’s newsletter, I find the process of promoting the PARCC to be fraught with unknowns and inconsistencies that reveal Central Services’ support for the new, untried, untested PARCC to be deeply problematic.
At the recent middle school PARCC presentation, Ms. Gail Clark answered “We don’t know” to questions at times, and I appreciate her honesty. What was troubling was the frequency of that answer because “We don’t know” came in response to questions about how the PARCC is developed and scored.
I do not blame Ms. Clark for these non-answers, as frequently on the PARCC website itself, they admit to not knowing some very important things about their own tests. For instance, how are they graded?: “PARCC is exploring a hybrid approach to scoring that includes scoring by both machines and humans.” In other words, they don’t know. In response to what kind of data teachers will receive, PARCC says “the PARCC states are working to develop detailed descriptors.” They’re working on it. They do not know.
Yet data is one of Central Services’ key selling points. In Dr. MacCormack’s newsletter titled “Why PARCC?” she states that these assessments “are said to provide a more thorough examination of student development than prior tests.” They are “said to.” By whom? On what basis? These assessments have never been given and have no published cut score. Adding to the questionable status of future data is the tests’ structure, as seen in the PARCC’s test blueprints on their website. While there is more writing, there are fewer questions, which weakens their reliability in statistical analysis. Additionally, many questions cover more than one standard. For instance, in the grades 3-5 ELA test, the 3rd task has 5 multiple choice questions* that cover “any combination of standards 1,2,3,5,7,9.” That’s 5 questions, 6 standards. So there’s overlap. In fact, according to the blueprints, almost all ELA and many math test items cover more than one standard, with some covering 5 or 6 standards. If a student gets a question wrong, how can anyone know which standard or standards the student is not meeting? We don’t know.
In essence, in addition to many other concerns surrounding the PARCC, the basic idea that we will have better data is unfounded. Our district must implement PARCC as it is a state mandate; to do so unquestioningly would be foolish; to do so enthusiastically borders on propaganda. Adopting the CCSS and the PARCC at the state level was a political decision. At the local level, it is incumbent upon all parents and educators to protect children and their interests. There should never be blind support for an untried, ambiguous program about which there is so much that we don’t know.
*PARCC does not use the term “multiple choice.” These questions are labeled Evidence-Based Selected Responses and Technology Enhanced Constructed Responses.