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Teachers: PARCC will confuse students

Rio Rancho High teacher Bruce Smith, left, watches 11th-grade students in his AP U.S. history class take part in an exercise that involves reading a primary source document and answering questions, similar to what is required in the PARCC test. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Rio Rancho High teacher Bruce Smith, left, watches 11th-grade students in his AP U.S. history class take part in an exercise that involves reading a primary source document and answering questions, similar to what is required in the PARCC test. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A group of teachers from Rio Rancho High believes a new standardized test being administered by the state this spring will confuse and frustrate students because of its complicated grading system and even more complicated electronic testing procedure.

Bruce Smith, an Advanced Placement government and U.S. history teacher at RRHS, and his colleagues took a practice version of the test during a teacher professional development day in early October.

“I was stunned by the types of questions and the difficulty of answering them,” he said. “Students won’t understand how they are being graded. Most students will not be aware of this style of test-taking.”

This spring, public school students in grades three through 12 statewide are required to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test. The test will be given online, and measures students’ knowledge in math and language arts, which is reading and writing, but students will be asked to do more than just fill in a bubble or write in their answer. The exam will include typing essays, dragging and dropping text, toggling between reading passages and answering questions based on embedded videos.

This has the RRHS teachers fearful that students will be confused or frustrated.

The New Mexico Public Education Department says the online test prepares students for work and college, and also has features kids will find “cool and fun.”

PARCC replaces the Standards Based Assessment, although the state will still use the SBA to test students in science. Student performance on the test will be a factor in school grades and eventually used to evaluate teachers. Juniors must pass the test to graduate, although they can retake the test as seniors or schools can use an “alternative demonstration of competency,” which could include additional tests or a project.

RRHS government and economics teacher Garrett Taylor said the problem is not the content, but the way the test is graded. Most of the questions, he said, are answered in two parts. For some problems, students can get partial credit for answering the first part correctly, but not the second or vice versa. Other times, they get credit only if they answer everything correctly.

“It does not reward them for their knowledge,” he said. “It’s not designed to demonstrate what they know. It’s designed to trip them up.”

The two men, along with history teacher Tracy Billingsley, and government and economics teacher Justin Daniels, say they would like to see the state slow down the implementation of the test so teachers have time to prepare students for this style of test-taking. They also question whether there is any benefit to administering the test online.

Bradford Bodley, center, studies a document during his Advanced Placement U.S. history class at Rio Rancho High. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Bradford Bodley, center, studies a document during his Advanced Placement U.S. history class at Rio Rancho High. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

‘Cool and fun’ features

The Rio Rancho school board on Nov. 24 said it would lobby the legislature to delay using the test results in teacher evaluations and when determining school grades. PARCC is matched with the Common Core State Standards that New Mexico adopted in full last year. State education officials believe PARCC is a truer reflection of whether students are prepared for college or the workplace than the SBA.

Compared with a paper-and-pencil test, which is how the SBA was administered, PARCC has features like embedded videos that kids will find cool and fun, said Leighann Lenti, director of policy for the PED.

“We anticipate there will be better engagement by students,” Lenti said. “Think about what it was like to take a test when we were kids. This is way cooler.”

New Mexico and many other states are moving to computer tests because most students will work on computers, not with paper and a pencil, when they go to college or enter the workplace, Lenti said.

“We are all for them learning basic computer skills,” Daniels said. “But they can learn that in some way other than through a high-stakes exam.”

The teachers said the online test is cumbersome at times, with students having to flip back and forth from one screen to another. They worry students will become frustrated and just select any answer to get through the test.

“My prediction is that most students will just start clicking answers,” Billingsley said.

Smith said AP tests and major college readiness exams, such as the ACT, are still taken the traditional way with paper and pencil.

“Why the leap to technology when a majority of districts are not ready?” he asked. “How can we prepare students to take this exam?”

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