Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Why I'm Not Scared of PARCC Testing

I am convinced I teach the hardest working kids. I am confident they are stronger, braver, and have way more heart than I have ever exhibited. Their lives, their struggles, and their ache reaches limits I could never imagine experiencing. They are kind and beautiful in so many ways. They are funny. They are creative. They are fighters.

And today we started what will be a month of on-and-off PARCC testing.

This begins the start of hours I will have to watch my kids. Not teaching. Not helping. Just observing. In all honesty, I love watching these kids. It helps me learn about who they are, how they learn, when they struggle, and their tiniest idiocynsytocies. So without much resistance, I settled in to observe them testing.

I did not learn about their writing skills today. I didn't read their writing or answer their amazingly honest questions today. I surely didn't ask any questions (that is strictly prohibited during testing- like all other good teaching practices). 

Today, I saw the most incredible display of character within my students. Today I saw:

  • determination
  • pride
  • perseverance
  • drive
  • positivity
  • focus
  • care
  • concern
  • anxiety
  • confidence

On this rainy, gray Baltimore day, we sat down and I watched these kids plow through a test they have no experience taking. Truthfully, I have no idea what they demonstrated as it relates to content or standards, and while that data is important, the character that rose up today was more telling of these students' future successes than whatever this data might reveal.

In this group, students that have historically struggled to read and write on grade-level, none of that mattered because they achieved character traits that allow them to tackle even the most difficult, confusing, or unclear tasks. Above even these traits, I watched students enter this stressful test with more grace than most adults are capable of in any given situation. As the morning jitters subsided, these kids dove in with a focus that took me off guard. Not that I would have expected them to be defeatist, but this level of dedication was astounding. 

Why were they so dedicated? Why do they even care about this? We didn't hype this test up, though we did encourage and support them leading up to today. As I watched, I thought about all the people that have such strong options around testing, myself included. But as I continued to watch, trying to pick out the moments I would offer soft words of support or a gentle pat on the back, I realized this is all our kids know. This system of testing is their educational experience. We can rant and rave all we want about what is nurturing vs. damaging for students, but as I watched my kids, I wondered if they will leave our system knowing that success isn't a score.

In general, public education has an unsustainable vision on how we ask students and teachers to showcase success. PARCC is just one example where teachers, schools, and students are asked to gauge their success on a metric that is unclear and, at best, still in its infancy. That is not to say there aren't points of achievement and growth that can't be gained from PARCC, but the true growth measurement and data use of this test has yet to be clearly communicated in a way that the general public can understand in a meaningful way.

To take this test, which is in its first year of implementation, and not without major flaws, and allow that to determine the success of students and teachers, we will probably be deeply disappointed. Additionally, Maryland will be using these results as a driving piece of teacher evaluations. Without any experience or knowledge of the test, this seems deeply unfair for teachers. Allowing time for growing pains and nurturing an environment of growth and reflection are stifled by the resentment and stress that could be the ultimate outcome of aligning these scores to teacher effectiveness. As an educational system, we must decide if success on this test is a true measure of what teachers and students are capable of achieving. 

Hold this test against some of the magnificent instruction and genuine achievement and I believe we will start to see the true disconnect between our system of standardized testing and authentic, creative, and important work that our people are showcasing everyday in their classrooms.

After the test, we celebrated. We celebrated the amazing effort and beautiful display of care my students showed. And we celebrated one another. We laughed. We talked-- loudly! We moved around. We drew pictures and made a mess. We did all the things I love to watch my kids do everyday. The things they love to do but we so rarely give them space to do inside our schools.

And today I deeply admired my students. I did not imagine on the first morning of PARCC I would feel so proud or determined, but I did. It was a feeling, in my heart, that my kids are resilient and can conquer anything we put in front of them. So really, we have nothing to worry about. These kids, they have nothing to be scared of. What they need- they already have it.


  1. Jenna,
    Enjoyed your piece. Just wanted to flag that MD will not being using PARCC results in the measures to inform teacher evaluation this year (14-15). The state announced that results from the statewide assessment will not be used until 16-17, instead SLO and other local measures of student growth will be part of the multiple measures calculations used.

  2. Thanks for the comment. And thank you for adding some clarity to the timeline details around PARCC and evaluations for teachers. As I think we have all seen, as testing and teacher evaluations unfold the dates are ever shifting, as are the requirements.