Why my daughter will take the PARCC test

Opinion by Richard F. McKeon of Helmsley Charitable Trust in the Asbury Park Press

04/13/15

 I have a 14-year old daughter. Like most parents, I'd do anything for her. But I won't opt her out of exams. My daughter is an eighth-grade public school student in New Jersey and she's a good student, but like most kids, she doesn't enjoy tests. She also doesn't like going to bed on time. As all parents know, not all things that are good for our kids make them jump for joy.

My daughter will encounter many tests in life: driving tests, SATs or ACTs, possibly Advanced Placement exams and other tests for placement in college or entrance to graduate school if she chooses to pursue that path. Will any of these tests tell me everything I should know about my daughter? Of course not. They won't tell me how she's able to recognize beauty in a sunset, and they won't tell me about her compassion for animals. But she will take these tests because they provide valuable information.

I know the question isn't whether my daughter should take tests, but whether she should take the new PARCC tests. PARCC stands for "Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers," and represent a statewide effort to enact new set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful past high school. And to this question, I think the answer is yes.

In developing the new PARCC exams, educators from multiple states collaborated to develop high-quality tests to truly measure whether students are on track for college and careers. In contrast, New Jersey's High School Proficiency Assessment was based upon a high school graduate being able to perform at a ninth-grade level. I'm guessing most parents, like me, expect their children to be beyond ninth grade when they finish 12th grade.

The PARCC tests are different tests than the old, multiple-choice tests we grew up with, as they require students to think more deeply, analyze more critically and develop answers that show they understand the material. These assessments are not simple, rote memorization exercises that drove the proliferation of "teaching to the test." Teachers are finally free to focus on teaching — not on test prep.

The English language arts questions will require my daughter to read passages and answer nuanced questions — the kinds of skills I want her to demonstrate. The math section asks her to solve algebraic equations, and there are no answers provided. As a result, she cannot simply guess A, B, C or D, but she must know how to solve a multiple-step problem. These types of questions will challenge my daughter and are exactly the types of skills that she needs when she enters college or the workforce.

I dug up my daughter's NJ ASK report from last year, an annual "Assessment of Skills and Knowledge" administered by the state to reveal her aptitude at her current grade level. There is no text explaining what the scores mean, no information about my daughter's strengths and areas for improvement and no comparisons to students in her school, district or state. The new PARCC report will show all of these things and will also show how she compares to students in other states. This will help parents and teachers alike concentrate on the areas that are causing their students the most trouble.

As the program director of education at a foundation, I've had the honor to work with teachers and their unions as well as principals, administrators and many others across the country on this transition to more rigorous standards and tests. This is not easy work for educators. Teachers need support with training and updated curricular materials that are truly high quality and aligned, and they need adequate time to adapt to these changes. But, when teachers are supported in this way, many report seeing their students advance beyond their expectations. However, the onus for success can't be on teachers alone. We all have a role to play in ensuring that our children's education is optimally preparing them for their steps beyond high school.

So, what can parents do? 1) Go to http://www.parcconline.org/take-the-test to see some of the questions yourself (broken out by grade level) and let your child try them out; 2) Encourage your students to do their best, but let them know that this is simply one test in a life filled with tests; and 3) encourage them to get to bed on time.

Richard F. McKeon leads the Education Program at the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

 

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