by Hope Morales│Wednesday, April 18th, 2018
When I taught 3rd grade at Valley View Elementary School in Roswell, over 80 percent of my students were proficient on the state English Language Arts Standards Based Assessment (SBA) - and all but one student were proficient in math.
This was not by accident. My colleagues and I worked extremely hard to differentiate instruction and rotate students for interventions based on individual strengths and needs. All this in a district that is over 70 percent Hispanic and where more then 80 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Then SBA was replaced by The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as PARRC. Suddenly my students would no longer underline or highlight their answer on the short story portion. Simple math strategies were no longer enough to solve a multi-step word problem. The bar was raised.
At first, I did not like PARCC. I had not been teaching to this level and felt it was unfair to teach standards that were assessed at such a high level. How would I teach my third graders to analyze two texts using context clues? Or to solve multi-step problems when they could only recognize one question within the statement?
I had to change who I was as an instructor. I could no longer teach how I had been taught as a student – or what I learned when I studied to become a teacher. I sought out more mentor teachers to “borrow” best strategies. I created resources that better met the needs of my students, because the scripted curriculum no longer cut it. I signed up for the new Common Core professional development my district offered. I continued to differentiate my instruction and push the envelope.
The culture within my classroom had to change as well. As a team, my students and I acknowledged the objectives were challenging, but committed to each other that we would all do our best.
While my student achievement scores dropped from the high proficiency ratings I earned under SBA, I saw light at the end of the tunnel. The state system was no longer tracking only proficiency. Student growth now figured into the mix. Both mattered to me and my students.
My students’ proficiency ratings were still above the district and state average, but short of my expectations. I earned 74.8 percent of points for student growth on my teacher evaluation. I was on the right track, but continued to aspire for more.
Growth on this assessment meant my students were learning critical skills at high levels. Proficiency meant my students would be prepared to attend college or begin a career right after high school.
Although I am no longer in the classroom, I still get excited for this time of year. I remember marching down the hallway with my class chanting, “Who will rock the test? We will rock the test!” My students had no fear about taking the assessment. They understood the questions were challenging and were ready.
My daughter, Jayla, will take the PARCC assessment for the first time this year. She is a little anxious because, like me, she is a perfectionist. I like that she is a little nervous though, because this shows me how much she cares. And life is full of these challenges we must rise to.
Jayla is also excited. Military Heights Elementary has done a great job celebrating the hard work and effort students put into their learning this year. The teachers have become their biggest cheerleaders and planned a variety of activities to keep the students engaged and learning throughout the assessment schedule.
Many people are unaware that high-quality state assessments are required by federal law and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), of which New Mexico has the best in the nation. For my children, I prefer the rigorous and critical thinking questions of PARCC, rather than the basic questions of SBA.
The rigor of PARCC questions, and the type of preparation required, mean different opportunities are available to our students after high school. In a world where critical thinking and 21st century skills are requisite, this is a good thing. If we want to change the cycle for many families in New Mexico, we have to offer them more and teach higher.
So, for all the educators and school staff that help prepare students across the state for this assessment - and for their future: Thank you!
And to our students, including Jayla: “Who will rock the test? You will rock the test!”
Hope Morales - Director of Policy, Teach Plus New Mexico
Prior to joining Teach Plus in 2017, Hope taught 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th grades in Roswell Independent School District and was the school’s Teacher on Special Assignment. She is a proud Roswell resident, wife to Jacob, and mother of three wonderful children.