The PARCC Testing Debate
Regardless of whether you are a parent or a teacher, unless you’ve been under a rock in recent months, you’ve heard of the new PARCC testing. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been blowing up with angry parents posting bitter rants about why this test is so evil and why their children should be allowed to opt out of it. The Washington Post published an article last week that nicely summarizes the drama: As Common Core Testing Is Ushered In, Parents and Students Opt Out.
Let me first say that I am a former attorney and current middle school teacher, so I am familiar with both the legal and educational aspects of the testing. I have been trained in PARCC testing administration and am very familiar with the test. Moreover, I am the mother of a 7th grader and a 4th grader, both of whom will be taking the PARCC test next week. Point is, I am seeing the situation both as an educator and as a parent.
I will also say that I do NOT believe that children should be solely judged on standardized testing. I think this cartoon sums it up perfectly:
I do not believe that standardized tests are a true indicator of how well a child will perform; in fact, I am a perfect example – I did incredibly well on the LSAT without even taking a prep class, yet was a VERY average law school student. I am a firm believer that universities should look at each prospective student’s entire background, not just the numbers posted on the SAT or ACT sites.
However, tests are important for teachers, administrators, and parents to see how well students are progressing and what things need to be changed in order to improve student learning. Ideally, these tests will help our teachers to teach better so our students can learn better.
As I weed through all of the posts tearing apart PARCC testing, I cannot help but think that all of the grumbling and complaining is actually counterproductive. I assume that most of these tirades are made with the best interests of the child in mind; however, is whining and complaining about a legally mandated test teaching our children about the ways of the real world? In my eyes, this is setting kids up for failure in the future. If I tell my kids “I think it’s a bad test so I’m telling your school you are opting out” then they will think this is the standard for things in the future. Go to college, take a class, dislike that the final exam “isn’t fair” so tell the professor you’re “opting out”? Graduate college, decide you want to go to law school, look at the LSAT prep book and think “hey, this isn’t a good or fair test so I’m just going to opt out”? Get a job, discover that in order to keep said job continuing education is required, but think hey, no problem, I can just opt out of it?
Let’s be real for a second. Right or wrong, your kid will have to take that final to pass the class, sit for the LSAT to get into law school, and complete the continuing education to maintain his or her job. I’m not saying I like it, but it’s fact. In the real world, we can’t simply opt out of required things because they aren’t to our liking (and may likely be actually flawed). Does PARCC have issues? Absolutely. Is it a perfect test? Nope, not even close. But it simply cannot get better for future students if it isn’t tested out in actual classrooms with actual students. All of the feedback, criticism, and data will help PARCC improve, which will hopefully better our educational system as a whole.
Our children and students feed off of our energy. If we are excited about something, so are they; if we are angry and bitter about something, they usually are too. So if we are all complaining about PARCC (and don’t kid yourself, whether your child is 4 or 14, they see and hear everything) your child will then HATE PARCC too. If Mommy says it is awful and terrible then it absolutely must be. Isn’t this how racism works? Now clearly, teaching kids to hate PARCC testing is nowhere near the level of racism, but you have to admit that it’s the same concept: parent preaches to child, child believes parent must be right, child preaches to other children, and the cycle begins.
Whether or not you agree with PARCC, it is important that you explain to your child(ren) or students that the testing is important to make them better students and citizens and to help their schools provide them with the best education. Encourage them to just do their best and ensure them that the scores DO NOT COUNT. This is really important as many kids are afraid of failing; if there is nothing to fail, there is nothing to fear. Insisting that your child(ren) opt out does absolutely no good, and provides them with the belief that throughout life if they don’t like something they can just decide not to do it, even if it is important and/or required for their role or position at the time.
My principal sent this to all staff last week, and I believe it is a fitting ending this post. Let’s all just “let it go” and set a good example for our kids.
Good luck to all with PARCC testing this Spring.
You ask if “whining and complaining” is the appropriate response to a legally mandated test. I don’t see parents whining and complaining, I see parents becoming activists and paying attention to what is going on in their children’s schools. I see parents engaging in civil disobedience in the service of their values and beliefs. This seems utterly and beautifully American to me, and the essence of a democracy.
Also, just because my child may someday take the LSAT (175 minutes), why does that mean she must be tested for over 9 hours at age 8? And every year after that, for longer and longer periods of time?
I appreciate your comment, but respectfully disagree that my logic failed in any way. First off, I am not talking about the parents who are actually trying to do something to make the tests better, I am talking about the parents who are jumping on the bandwagon and literally whining and complaining (I hear and see it every day on Facebook and other avenues of social media) about their kids having to take these tests, yet instead of trying to do something to fix the problems with the tests, they are teaching their children to refuse to take it. That is hardly the way the real world is, and this behavior simply would set their children up for failure (I am not saying I agree with this, just that it is what it is). I applaud those parents who actually lobby to have changes made, but these are in the vast minority. Moreover, parents opting out are hardly engaging in civil disobedience; civil disobedience is the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, and nonpayment of taxes. Complaining on social media and telling your kids not to take a standardized test simply doesn’t rise to this level.
I practiced law for 10 years and therefore took the LSAT myself. I can honestly say that all my years of taking standardized tests only helped me (and I scored high enough to be offered scholarships to 4 law schools in Chicago) as they prepared me for being able to sit for such an exam. I have a 4th grader and a 7th grader myself, and I while I may not agree with testing, it is my responsibility as a parent to teach them that sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. I absolutely believe a happy medium needs to be reached in regards to this issue, but while such a change is being worked out parents need to be role models for their children and not just tell them that they can not do something because they don’t like it.
We began high stakes testing in Texas back in the mid-eighties. Many want to eliminate testing altogether or, failing that, remove passing the tests as a graduation requirement. I have been teaching math for almost 40 years. I still love what I do. It is important to reflect on the reasons we have testing.
I have been around long enough to remember what things were like before high stakes testing. At risk of over simplification, the good old days were, in fact, terrible. I witnessed how our schools were horribly mis-managed. For instance, athletes were put in the most basic classes regardless of ability so they would have their eligibility. Generally, those classes were so easy all you needed to do was show up. Girls were actively discouraged from advanced math or science classes. African -American students were kept on a “basic track” at their own campuses. It was thought they were not capable of handling any thing beyond basics. As a result of these “good old days” students abilities often ranged from semi-literate to functionally illiterate.
I remember when Ross Perot talked about kids absent for 100 days or more showing chickens at stock shows. He was actually closer to the truth than not. Nobody cared, it seemed. Why should they?
With the passing of a testing regime the schools were forced to at least pay attention to all of their students. High fail rates on tests meant bad evaluations for the schools. At least now there was a minimal standard. At least now the schools had an incentive to educate students beyond very basic skills. Yes, I take issue with test content, structure etc. Yes, the testing system can be significantly improved.
Remove the testing regime? No way. If we do, then our schools will return to those days before testing. Schools and other organizations do what they perceive is in their interest to do. If it is not in a school’s interest to address the needs of all student population groups, eventually they won’t. You need both a carrot and a stick for improvement to take place.