Educators glad PARCC ousted

Jay LeFevre

The recent elimination of PARCC as Ohio’s Common Core test provider is hardly being mourned by Fulton County school superintendents, who say the twice-yearly process took entirely too much time and effort from their districts.

On June 29, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation that banned the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers from providing the state’s schools with federally-mandated testing in English, language arts, and math. A campaign to oust PARCC, a multi-state partnership, was led by Ohio legislators, who received numerous complaints from parents who felt PARCC testing was too hard and time-consuming.

The state finally conceded defeat after using PARCC for one year, but only after investing $45 million in the program and taking two years to adapt the testing to Ohio’s Common Core standards.

Almost immediately after the legislation went into effect, state school Superintendent Richard Ross announced the American Institutes for Research (AIR) as PARCC’s successor. AIR has already provided the state’s social studies and science tests, and the Ohio Graduation Test and Ohio Achievement Assessments. The organization’s process promises a reduction in preparation and testing time.

Wauseon Exempted Village Schools were selected as a testing ground for PARCC’s computer-based program. Superintendent Larry Brown said the school district was well-suited for the role due to its transition from most textbooks to Chromebook laptops.

“Chromebook devices were clearly the most hassle-free systems for completing PARCC assessments,” he said.

Unfortunately, the extensive amount of classroom time devoted to preparation became an issue.

“While we understand that accountability is important for our staff and community, we will look forward to a more realistic amount of testing time for our students during the 2015-2016 school year,” Brown said.

When Pettisville Local Schools Superintendent Steve Switzer witnessed the time and effort necessary to prepare for and complete PARCC testing, he knew the state had traveled down the wrong road. He didn’t consider the assessment content quite as challenging as he had anticipated. But he and many of the district’s parents found preparation time virtually all-consuming and stress-inducing for students.

“It’s pleasing to see the legislature responding to inevitable parent complaints. It was pretty obvious that (it) would create a firestorm,” Switzer said.

He said he’s not a fan of what has seemingly become an over-emphasis on student testing. He’s especially concerned about the stress it can put on younger students.

Switzer said he’s glad the state “is responding to what was not the best plan, and hopefully they’ll respond as time goes on to what works for teachers and students.”

Archbold school administrators expected PARCC to get the boot after state legislators received so much negative feedback. “It was taking up so much of our time in the classroom,” Superintendent Aaron Rex said.

Because the tests were given twice during the academic year they were hard to schedule. Rex estimated that preparation time for PARCC interrupted two weeks of classroom instruction on every grade level.

And while he understands the government’s demand for accountability, Rex thinks PARCC asked too much of both students and teachers.

“It was a lot of work to get everything ready. We had hundreds and hundreds of hours invested,” he said. “Two weeks is a good amount of time for kids to be losing out. I’m against testing to be done when it’s at such an extreme.”

It didn’t help matters that PARCC testing is computer based. “(It) was difficult for us to administer through the elementary school and the middle school. Kids had to rely on skills we had to teach them to be effective on the test. It was hard to navigate through,” Rex said.

And now that PARCC has been scrapped, he wonders what will become of test results from last school year.

“Are they still going to determine our kids’ scores? Are they still going to report back to us? It leaves some questions, because these type of tests are involved in teacher evaluations,” he said.

Rex also has questions about AIR. Although the organization assures state testing will be ready for the upcoming school year, he isn’t so certain. He wonders as well whether AIR’s standards are commensurate with PARCC’s.

He is pleased, however, that AIR testing will be shorter in length, and will occur only once per school year. “That’s a positive,” he said.

PARCC spokesperson David Connerty-Marin said questions concerning the amount of preparation time needed for the assessments and their difficulty level have also surfaced in other states. He said in most areas, however, “they’ve agreed that expecting less of our students is not in their interest. We have lost a few states along the way, but now we’re in a fairly strong position.”

Connerty-Marin said six years ago 47 different tests were available across the country. He said PARCC helped bring uniformity to the assessment process.

At Pike-Delta-York schools, Superintendent Jay LeFevre believes jettisoning PARCC was a necessity.

“However, the real issue is centered more on testing generally, and that is where some positive changes from the state have been determined,” he said.

LeFevre said since AIR assessments will be given in a shorter testing window, and will be shorter in length, “I am also confident that putting all our assessments on a single platform makes sense, and will simplify the administration process.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, AIR will enlist the help of Ohio educators to specifically develop and review its math and English assessments.

LeFevre said getting the results back in a timely manner will allow for meaningful use by teachers, particularly within their instruction. He said the changes associated with AIR should reduce testing anxiety in the students.

Social studies and science assessments AIR has provided to Ohio schools the past few years makes it well-positioned to manage overall testing, LeFevre added.

“Now, what we really need is a timely roll out, and timely results. I hope that happens in 2015-16,” he said.