The lack of purpose, impossibility, and expense of the PARCC

Having an authentic audience that includes my friends, students, and colleagues while blogging about educational reform is more difficult than I expected. Not wanting to bore my readers, nor preach to them, I’ve been waiting to write until I had the “uncommon, insightful essay” that I am always bugging my AP students about. Well, EdWeek wrote an article sharing PARCC’s very vague guidelines about technology required to test students in compliance with Common Core in 2014-2015. Here’s my favorite part, the part that I’d like to discuss in more detail.

One of the requirements focuses on test security. All devices used during the tests—whether laptops, netbooks, or tablets—and operating systems must have the capability to “lock down” and temporarily disable features that present a security risk while exams are being given. Certain features would also need to be controlled during test administration, including unlimited Internet access, certain types of cameras, screen captures, email, and instant-messaging, the requirements say.

I don’t know a lot about computer security systems, but I know enough to understand that the concept of “lock down” is simply not possible in our modern world. Anonymous hacked the Fed this week and MIT last month: I bet their computers were more “locked down” than public schools’. The fact that lock down can’t exist, that privacy – much like Nietzsche’s God – is dead, won’t stop school districts across the nation from pursuing hardware and software that will fulfill this unfulfillable requirement; and this will surely be at a huge cost to taxpayers everywhere at a time when public education is already financially insolvent. PARCC tests will be the nail in the coffin of public education as we know it.

The current guidelines seem to be vague enough to encourage feedback from districts, but will surely be expensive. Again, from EdWeek:

Some of the PARCC requirements are still to come. Minimum bandwidth requirements won’t be determined until next year, according to PARCC. But the group is setting the recommended bandwidth for external connections to the Internet at 100 kilobytes per second, per student, or faster, and the minimum for internal school networks at least at 1000 kilobytes per second, per student.

I have asked my own district what our current bandwidth limitations are, and will update with more information when it becomes available. Clearly, though, in remote districts where the connection is slow or urban districts where there are a lot of students, this is going to be a burden. And building infrastructure isn’t free.

Without having to speculate, though, I can clearly speak to the effects of this purposeless testing. My current district is not going to buy any new technology that doesn’t fit the PARCC guidelines, so as to avoid spending money on tech that cannot also be used to test. The EdWeek article points out that the PARCC guidelines are very similar to the SBAC guidelines: PARCC was the Race to the Top winner, and includes 23 states and Washington, D.C.; SBAC covers the rest of the nation. While I understand that when resources are limited we need tools that can multitask, I would argue that this is true only if you accept the current educational paradigm. We only need new, specific, Windows-driven computers and more bandwidth if we agree that testing our students in the way that Race to the Top and Common Core requires is in the best interest of learning. I don’t.

And not only don’t I think testing, and hoarding resources to afford to be able to test, is in the best interest of learners, neither do a growing number of educators, parent/taxpayers, school leaders, and students. While Anonymous was hacking the Fed, Seattle educators were breaking the system too by refusing to administer another purposeless test to their students. Because their fight is a noble one, parents and students joined them, refusing to test and asserting their rights to be educated, not tested. Way back in September, Chicago teachers, including a personal friend and colleague, went on strike to call attention to the terrible learning conditions;students joined them in advocating for purposeful, quality education, too.

My point is that education change is happening, with or without you. Students are ready and willing to take up the fight, but they need what they always have: modeling from adults, in this case they need adults to model the purposeful, fearless, and deliberate challenging of the broken Prussian paradigm I wrote about in my first post. Students need to know that educational reform cannot happen without them, and we need to show them how to demand change in a productive way. This task is multifaceted, depending on what influence you personally have. It includes modeling for our young learners that we do not accept anything less than excellent pedagogy, purposeful instruction, and hard work from our leaders and from ourselves. It includes helping young people in determining the objectives for one’s own learning, as well as modeling the life of an adult learner who also sets goals, chooses a method of approach, and then monitors his or her own progress towards mastery of said goal. It involves choosing to view college as a product you are purchasing, and conducting focused research into whether or not the investment of college is best suited to helping one attain his or her specific goals. It involves devaluing the status quo and seeking to understand the “wheels within wheels” by which our society, and therefore education, functions. It includes not taking no for an answer, following the rules only as much as you have to, and demonstrating success within a broken system while advocating against it so as to add competency to your argument. It’s hard work, and it must be a community effort if educational reform in any kind of real sense is going to occur.

New York State educational reformers – teachers, parents, students, leaders — have some time to plan our strategic response to the bombardment of Pearson-created tests that will hit our students this spring. There is fertile ground here, as 2012’s 8th grade ELA and math tests were flawed: the ELA included the notorious pineapple who had no sleeves and was hacked to bits by his friends “because they were angry”, and the math exams included both a question with no right answer (8th grade) and a question with 2 right answers (4th grade) as well as incorrect translations into languages other than English. Parents and students should discuss opting out of tests not required for graduation, and teachers and leaders should act as providers of information and liaisons to the governing bodies involved starting with the School Board. Schools test partially because there is “money” tied to it and partly because they fear the backlash from their communities if they were to eschew the bombardment of State required testing each spring. When communities come together to express that they neither need the “money” tied to compliance with testing nor that they value the information the tests eventually provide, the educational system is changed.

If the tests were just tests, created by some teacher and used to determine .05% of a student’s overall average like most assignments do, it would be annoying. It would be indicative of sloppy, purposeless practice, and a student would be right in asserting the infidelity of the test results and advocating for a more worthwhile spending of his or her time. But citizens of a state pay $32 million dollars and subject all of its children aged 8-14 through at least 9 hours of this flawed testing – as much as 22 in the case of a student with disabilities – and then use it to determine things like support services and course placement and college admissions. No teacher I’ve ever met loves the testing, good ones can tell you what each student needs to improve upon without them and great ones can get their students to own that information. I don’t hate the playa, I hate the game, which is why I am purposefully modeling for students the change I want them and their families to demand.

What are you doing to call attention to the broken educational system and spur student advocacy?


7 thoughts on “The lack of purpose, impossibility, and expense of the PARCC

  1. Melissa

    Good food for thought. I’ve got a few half-formed ideas of my own. The talk about test security reminds me of a certain someone who took a nursing exam and had to have a scan of his palm both before and after the exam, while being videotaped the whole time. He was allowed a dry erase board to take notes on–but he was NOT allowed a dry erase board.

    I guess this isn’t a mandatory school test, but I have little experience with implementing that, as a college instructor. It does make me think about who benefited from having technology palm scans instead of exam proctors, in any case.

    Here in Florida, we have the FCAT, and the amount of time it takes out of the school year and out of student’s time is truly staggering. One of my fellow students at school is a teacher at a high school, and they’ve had to struggle to implement the technology that is now demanded by the state, as well. There are more pressing problems at his urban Florida public school, but everyone’s hands are tied. His story is not an unfamiliar one down here.

    What I do know, and what was in the news, is that Florida’s writing test scores were very low on the latest FCAT, and an emergency measure to pass a lower acceptable standard for the writing portion of the test was accepted. Problem solved, right?

    I would also like to know more about how these testing/instructional technology companies benefit from all this hoopla. Everything is increasingly just a business, but it wasn’t always so–and students learned just fine in the process. You are right that counseling students to view college as a product is necessary now–viewing everything as a product is necessary in this sort of economy, and with prices as what they are. Anyway, that’s getting into something else entirely…business has nothing at all to do with mandates from the state…right?

    1. mspierceblogs Post author

      Public education is a very lucrative business for someone. Pearson, for instance. While I don’t know exactly who is involved with PARCC (yet- I’m researching it), it seems clear that while computer-based testing is very costly. I will not be surprised to find ties between the federal and state education departments and the for-profit companies who write and charge big bucks to administer the tests.

      For one example, consider David Coleman – lead writer of the Common Core infamously quoted as telling students that, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” After penning the Common Core and arguing for hours on videos why 21st century learners simply must attend college, he became the president of the College Board to the tune of roughly $750,000 and is now overseeing things like the AP Exams, the SAT/ PSATS, and CLEP exams. Basically, if you intend to attend college, and Race to the Top states that all high school graduates WILL attend college, you have to pay lots of money $90 for each AP, for example) to companies Dvid Coleman has been involved with to have the opportunity to do well on the tests required for admission. If that’s not education as a business, I don’t know what is.


      1. Melissa

        Aha! I’ve been hearing about this Common Core guy for a bit now. Can’t wait to see the fruits of your research on PARCC.

  2. Em Cos

    Great read, Markette! I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve always thought educators should be in charge of how best to educate students, not legislators. Imagine if Doctors and Nurses had to forgo their own training and judgment and evaluate patient health based on state-mandated standards… (wait, they sort of have that with health insurance companies…terrifying. nevermind) if too low a percentage of people had an acceptable blood pressure level, we could just call an emergency session and declare that 160/100 is the new 120/80.

    1. mspierceblogs Post author

      I like what you’re saying Em, but I think it’s the learner who actually needs to be in charge of determining the best way(s) of learning. The teacher can offer a menu of options seeking to encourage growth and provide a reasonable challenge, but the learner needs to do, well … everything else, I think.

  3. Francis Hahn

    Hi – first time reading your blog, and I am not posting this in a lame attempt to generate publicity for some dubious website selling knock off Nikes. I too am a teacher–in New Mexico–and, like you, I have grave concerns about CCSS and PARCC.

    In particular I am concerned by the PARCC’s mandate for increased ‘complexity’ (read, Lexile score). Basically, the PARCC questions are written at a Lexile score that only the top quartile of students nationally will be able to read. The resulting impact on ‘Proficiency’ (graduation) rates has already been observed in Kentucky, where proficiency rates dropped by more than a third in 2011-2012 when that state became the first to switch over to PARCC.

    In that sense, though you note aptly that PARCC does not serve a purpose for those of us who work in the trenches, it does seem to serve quite an effective purpose for those who wish to fire torpedoes at the public schools. In the face of a horrendous decline in graduation rates, politicians will be able to implement every piece of corrosive legislation they can dream up. From merit pay to vouchers–it will be, as you correctly note, “the nail in the coffin of public education as we know it.”

    I wrote extensively about this on my blog, and with your approval, I’d like to leave a link to my post here. But first I’ll wait to hear back.

    Thanks for your thoughts. They were, indeed “uncommonly insightful.”

    Francis Hahn


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