Lafayette Parish teachers will soon hand out new standardized tests for thousands of students for the first time. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, known as PARCC, is designed to measure how students perform in English and math in third through eighth grades.
So far, 19 parents have told the school system that their children won’t be taking the test. The number of testing opt-outs is relatively small, considering that more than 13,000 students are in line to take the exams. But the level of concern, the number of unanswered questions and the widely different viewpoints on the tests’ usefulness has become far greater than the opt-out figures indicate.
“There is definitely high anxiety, and it has a lot to do with the fact that this is all very public,” said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. “I don’t want to sound like teachers are running around like the sky is falling. They are professionals and they are handling it in a professional way, but they are frustrated.”
Much of the frustration centers on the impact the results will have. If a parent opts out a student, his or her school will receive a zero, something that could lower its performance score in future ratings. The student won’t be assessed an academic penalty, but some parents worry the zero could affect placement in honors or advanced courses in high school. This year’s results won’t be directly tied to teacher evaluations, but Monaghan said there is fear that the two may eventually be connected.
“There is really no excuse that the public school teachers and everyone aren’t informed a whole lot better than we are right now,” Monaghan said. “There is way too much uncertainty, relative to what is going to happen, than is necessary or should have occurred.”Opting out
The administration of the PARCC exams comes as Louisiana continues implementation of the Common Core standards. Heather Blanchard, a Lafayette mother of three and co-founder of the Parents Empowered group, said her children have done well with Common Core. She is now ready to see if their success in homework and assignments translates into high scores on the PARCC.
“From my standpoint, I love the idea of testing them to see if maybe anything that has happened in the last couple of years has made a difference,” Blanchard said at a Tuesday forum. “I’ve talked to other parents who are on the same page. We feel like, what’s the harm in it if we’re positive about what’s going on. I am all for challenging them and creating an environment that causes them to work even a little harder.”
Lafayette parents LeighAnne Bernard and Audrey Muffoletto said they are both “huge champions” for local public schools and teachers. They want and expect their children to be challenged academically, and are proud of the success they’ve had in school. But they are alarmed at the difficulties they’ve seen their children experience under the latest curriculum.
Those concerns, along with questions about how the PARCC tests will be scored and used, have led them to opt their children out of this spring’s exams.
“It is unbelievable that I have to go online and take an hour to familiarize myself with the lessons that are being taught to my 9-year-old,” Bernard said. “I want my children to be challenged and to think critically. But this curriculum and this exam is not doing that. You can’t tell them to think critically, but to only do it your way.”MORE: LPSS receives 13 testing opt-outsMORE: PARCC tests spur confusion, questions, concern
Another sticking point? The results from the tests taken this spring won’t be available to schools and districts until the fall. The state education department said the results will be double-checked to ensure accuracy, and that the practice is common for first-year tests. But the delay is so long that teachers and schools won’t be able to make adjustments this school year based on the scores. And with many state officials disagreeing on different aspects of Common Core and PARCC, some worry that decisions could be made in the months between the tests and the results that could have a negative impact down the line.
“I refuse to be intimidated by the local, state or federal education departments into submitting to practices that I consider both unethical and harmful to my children, and I will challenge any action taken by anyone to punish my children now or in the future because of my decision to opt them out of testing,” Bernard said.
Muffoletto said she knows other parents share similar concerns, but have stuck with PARCC because of unanswered questions.
“A lot of parents have told me they want to opt out, but they’re not clear on the consequences in the future,” she said.A reliable indicator?
One of the main ideas behind national academic standards and tests is to measure how well students are doing in one state as compared to another. After months of political upheaval across the country, though, Louisiana is one of just 10 states that will use the PARCC this year. The District of Columbia also will use the exam for its students.MORE: Jindal issues executive order on PARCC; BESE responds
Some believe that with so few states using the test, it will be nearly impossible to identify Louisiana student performance, or areas to target for academic improvement. While the PARCC might show how well Louisiana students did compared to students in Colorado or Ohio, educators won’t be able to use the tests to see differences between Louisiana and states like North Carolina or Nebraska.
“We’re not really going to get a reliable indicator,” said Toby Daspit, a member of Power of Public Education Lafayette, at a Tuesday forum. Daspit, who also teaches at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said he disagrees with the idea of using standardized tests as a grading point for schools and educators.
“The policy is really fundamentally flawed,” he said. “Achievement tests were never designed to be used the way they are being used. They were designed to provide help and guidance for students. To use them to grade teachers and to grade schools, is just fundamentally flawed.”
Penny Gennuso, an academic specialist for the Lafayette Parish School System, said the PARCC results will ultimately help local teachers and students. Once the results are available, Gennuso said educators will review each grade level to see what students mastered and where they struggled. In turn, teachers will receive training on areas of concern, and students will be able to receive remediation if needed.
“I think principals and teachers will use that to guide instruction and remediation,” Gennuso said. “I think it’s definitely going to be a valuable tool for us, especially because PARCC will release a lot of items that students took. We’ll actually get to see more of the items than we ever had an opportunity to for LEAP and ILEAP.”Are we prepared?
Monaghan said teachers’ preparation for administering PARCC can vary greatly, depending on the type of training and resources available in their individual districts. Even so, he said, Louisiana teachers are ready to move forward, despite the lingering concerns about what this test will mean in the future.
“I think the common denominator is that teachers are teaching, and they are teaching what they hope is going to be fairly assessed,” he said. “But they won’t know until they actually test the kids and someone can give explanations of what this means and how it will be translated into public education in Louisiana.”
Lafayette Parish Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau has emphasized several times recently that the district intends to use the PARCC results as just one data point to determine how well schools are doing. She said they also look at factors such as student performance on other assessments, parental involvement, health and wellness data and more to determine what improvements need to be made at which schools.
“Sometimes you can give a test and garner a lot of information from one test,” Billeaudeau said at a Tuesday forum. “The staff and I look at a multiplicity of things. We have a variety of policies in place that say we have to give a certain number of benchmark assessments. We have to assess. That’s just part of the nature of education today. Now, how many assessments, we need to talk about that.”
Billeaudeau said she respects parents’ rights to opt their children out of PARCC, but also feels that Lafayette Parish children have been well-prepared for the exams.
“I would encourage parents to encourage their children. I just think our kids are great and are very, very smart,” she said.Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Take a PARCC sample test
Jay Jackson, chairman of the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council, said he thinks there ultimately needs to be a longer-term discussion about the amount and frequency of standardized tests, but that it needs to be balanced with conversations about how to improve Louisiana’s history of low academic rankings.
“Something needs to change. There needs to be some kind of signal that says this is not acceptable,” Jackson said at a Tuesday forum. “I’ve heard a lot about teaching to the test. The other question is, would you rather teach things that are not the standard? Is there too much testing? Yeah, there is. I would absolutely agree. We need to have some kind of balanced scorecard. At the end of the day, we have to have some kind of result. At the end of the day, our kids have to learn.”
WHO IS TAKING THE PARCC?
The following states have agreed to have students take the PARCC exams this year:
Eighteen other states will take Smarter Balanced exams. Twenty-one states will give another type of standardized test. Massachusetts is undecided.
SOURCE: Education Week
Phase I of PARCC, also known as a performance based assessment, will take place from March 16 to March 20 in Louisiana.
Students will take English Language Arts exams on March 16, 17 and 18. The first day will focus on literary analysis. Students will be given 75 minutes to complete the test. The second day will focus on research simulation. Third grade students will have 75 minutes, and students in all other grades will have 90 minutes. The third day will focus on narrative writing. Students will have 60 minutes.
Students will take math exams on March 19 and 20. They will be given 70 to 80 minutes for the tests.
Phase I makeup testing for all grades will occur on March 23 and 24.
Phase II of PARCC, known as end of year assessment, will take place from May 4 to May 8.
Students will take math exams on May 4 and 5. They will have 75 to 80 minutes for the exams. Students will take ELA tests on May 6, and will be given 60 to 75 minutes. May 7 and 8 are mostly reserved for makeup testing, while students in sixth through eighth grades will take ELA exams.
Phase II makeup testing for all grades will also occur May 11 and 12.
SOURCE: Louisiana Department of Education
PARCC IN LOUISIANA: A TIMELINE
November 2013: Louisiana Education Superintendent John White says the state will use PARCC for third through eighth grades, but not high school. He also announces that the state will adjust school letter grades and performance scores while schools adjust to the new exams and expectations.
March 2014: Gov. Bobby Jindal expresses concerns about PARCC and the Common Core standards and says he has asked legislators and the state education board to further look at the issues involved. Jindal says he is worried about student privacy and possible federal overreach into local education.
April 2014: The House Education Committee rejects a proposal from Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, to have Louisiana administer a test other than PARCC.
June 2014: Jindal takes steps, including issuing an executive order, to remove Louisiana from the Common Core standards and PARCC testing consortium. Jindal also takes steps to block the education department from issuing contracts for standardized tests. White and Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said implementation of Common Core and PARCC preparations will continue.
July 2014: BESE joins a lawsuit filed by parents and a charter school operator that challenges Jindal’s order that would essentially block PARCC testing.
August 2014: A Baton Rouge judge rules that Jindal must lift his order that would have blocked PARCC, saying that the governor has caused “irreparable harm” by interfering in the testing process.
January 2015: The Lafayette Parish School System receives the first notice from a parent opting their child out of PARCC. More parents join, with the total number of opt-outs reaching 13 by mid-February.
February 2015: In a meeting with district superintendents, White says he is open to looking at the impact of opt-outs after the PARCC is administered. One superintendent says White told the group he does not want to embarrass schools or districts who might suffer a heavy negative impact if they receive a high number of opt-outs.
Power of Public Education Lafayette will host a forum at 6 p.m. March 11 about state and district mandated assessments, including PARCC. The event will be at the Picard Center, 200 East Devalcourt St., Lafayette. It is free and open to the public. Topics will include information about different tests given at different grade levels.
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