Common Core hearings took place before the Tennessee Senate Education Committee with testimony from across the political spectrum. Teachers and supporters testified to the impact they have already seen in classrooms across the state. While I hope that the committee members choose to continue our current path to implement common core, I can’t help but think that this is the start of a push by some halt implementation of the standards and their accompanying PARCC assessments.
As a teacher, I’ve experienced first hand the improvement that these standards represent over our old Tennessee standards. They push kids not just to do, but think about and analyze what they are doing. However, I believe it would be short-sighted to implement the Common Core State Standards without the accompanying PARCC assessments.
If you’re not familiar with PAARC, you can read more about its purpose and development here. In a nutshell, PARCC assessments are designed to track students’ readiness for college and careers and compare students across the states. They would incorporate both multiple choice AND open answer, something we lack in Tennessee. They are also computer based, a big change over the current model we use in Tennessee.
However, one of the big push backs against these tests is the costs. Earlier this year, PARCC came out with their estimated cost per student, $29.95. Currently in Tennessee we spend around $40-50 million per year to test students, or around 1% of our total state spending on education. Fully implementing PARCC would likely raise the cost somewhat in Tennessee and elsewhere, but not by a considerable amount. The increase in costs has, however, led some states to pull out of the consortia, most recently Georgia. Despite this, 13 states and Washington, D.C., are still committed to fully implementing PARCC. You can see which states are committed to the different testing consortia and which have none on this map.
I sincerely hope that our legislature decides not only to continue to implement the CCSS, but also to remain within the group of states seeking to implement PARCC. There are many benefits in doing so. First, teachers could be assured that we would receive the testing results before the end of the year. Second, PARCC tests would also allow for better accommodations for English language learners and students with disabilities by creating pre-designed modules for these students. Third, they would likely reduce the likelihood of the testing scandals we’ve seen in recent years as there will be no paper involved.
We would also gain several macro benefits. Through participation in PARCC, we gain the ability to compare Tennessee to other consortium states using a common metric. Implementing these assessments, designed to determine college and career readiness, would also not only raise the rigor of our assessments, which, in my experience, are too easy to game by teaching kids tricks and test-taking skills. They would also allow us to compare students, educators, and schools to other states using a common assessment.
There are some caveats with implementation. The tests are new and will likely need some tweaking, so I do not believe that they should be used to evaluate teachers in the first year (until at least 2015). Furthermore, we have seen test SCOREs drop in states that have fully implemented new common core state tests due to the increased rigor. Therefore I don’t believe we should use these tests in year one to impose any penalties or harms on schools or districts in their first year or possibly second (2016).
Many anti reformers decry testing as “the problem” in education today. I contend that testing is not the problem. Rather, bad testing is the problem. Current tests allow us to game the system, modify the standards and the questions at will and in doing so dilute the results and render them essentially meaningless. PARCC would overcome many of these challenges and do so with a similar if slightly higher cost to what we currently spend in Tennessee on testing. I hope our state’s legislators decide to continue our state’s participation in the PARCC consortia.
This blog was originally posted at bluffcityed.com on September 22, 2013.