by Elizabeth Long, an eighth-year middle school English Language Arts educator at Mesa View Middle School in Farmington Municipal Schools.
In light of last week’s decision by Governor Lujan-Grisham to do away with PARCC, even before finding a legal and viable alternative, I feel compelled to speak out. I never thought I would be writing something in defense of PARCC, but my view of the assessment has changed drastically for several reasons.
First, it is important to note that testing is here to stay. With the mandate to end PARCC testing, many believe this will end testing once and for all, which is simply not the case. In Colorado, for example, PARCC was simply replaced by a similar assessment including many questions purchased from PARCC.
PARCC will need to be replaced by something else, which will likely not be as effective. Other states that have thrown out PARCC end up spending millions of dollars trying to replace an already effective system. Take a look at New Jersey as another example.
Over the years, many teachers have familiarized themselves with the rigor and expectations of PARCC, which are directly aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
Many of us have relished the ability to truly "backwards plan" because we know the test well. This is not about "teaching to the test" because one truly cannot teach to take PARCC. By design, it deeply measures students' ability levels - not rote memorization of facts. PARCC gauges students’ ability to apply what they have learned.
Because of this, PARCC has pushed teachers, students, and administrators toward higher rigor and expectations. Students cannot "fake" their knowledge on the PARCC; it simply is not possible.
In my school, we use PARCC to push towards our highest potential, especially as teachers. Through the past few years, many teachers have aligned their curriculum to Common Core standards, which are assessed by PARCC. Again, because of this familiarity and alignment, we are able to backwards plan.
This means that I can connect what I teach in the classroom directly to tangible, authentic assessments. Throwing out PARCC means throwing out thousands of curriculum-aligned resources. Throwing out PARCC means throwing out alignment and consistency across the state of New Mexico. Further, throwing out PARCC means starting from scratch.
We teachers will also require brand new professional development for a new system, which costs millions of dollars and will take who knows how long to reach us. Unfortunately, teachers will get even less time in our classrooms to lesson plan; rather, we will be doing more training on how to use some new testing system with another random acronym: STAR, LOVE, DOG, SOMETHING. You name it!
Finally, PARCC truly shows us where our students are on a national level. We are able to compare our students with others across the nation, and track data historically. A new system means we wipe the slate clean, yet again, when it comes to this data analysis.
Many criticize PARCC for being "too hard" or "rigorous", but we need New Mexico students to compete at a national level—and be ready for their future colleges and careers. Lowering expectations will get us nowhere.
The response I keep hearing from my fellow teachers is that "This is just how it is. Things change all of the time." Change for the sake of change is not good. We should only change, especially something this consequential, when it benefits our students.
Of course, PARCC is not a perfect assessment by any means. But, instead of simply throwing out an effective tool, let’s focus on the areas where improvements should be made. While results and data are now released more quickly than ever, many teachers do not find the data user-friendly or accessible.
Many teachers share that they are unable to gather PARCC data that can be utilized quickly and effectively in their classrooms. This is a valid concern and should be an immediate goal to fix.
Teachers should be given individual breakdown reports of their classrooms with itemized data that is easy to read and put into action. Throwing out an entire system because of a few flaws makes no sense at all. We’re throwing out the bath water and all our babies along with it.
Why are we fixing what is not broken? The PARCC is just an assessment, yes, and a valuable and effective one at that. We should work on ensuring all of our students can reach the rigorous standards of the PARCC in New Mexico because we want our students to be proficient in every category in every way, no matter what state they end up living in later in life.