Put it in PARCC; students, staff voice their concerns

Ellen Walter, Assistant Copy Editor

PARCC testing. Those two words have been bouncing around the hallways for the majority of the last month, but what is it, why did seemingly random groups of students have to take it, and–most importantly–how do people feel about it?

PARCC testing is a part of the Common Core standards that Illinois, among 12 other states, has begun to introduce this year. PARCC was met with similar controversy in other states, with students walking out of test rooms in New Mexico and protesting in New Jersey, according to the Washington Post. At Elk Grove High School, however, administrators understand the concerns of students and the impact it has on them.

Principal Paul Kelly recognizes both the negatives and positives of PARCC testing. He believes that, while the test is time-consuming compared to the ACT, it may hold some benefits in the future.

“It seems like a good assessment of skills. Looking at test items, the questions seem to be ones that mirror what students should be able to do to be successful in college or in a career. So, if we’re just talking about the questions themselves, the questions seem like good questions to me. That, I think, is a positive,” Kelly said.

However, time spent taking the PARCC exams is time out of the classroom, missing instruction. It also adds another layer of stress to students reviewing for finals and AP tests or juniors preparing for the ACT.

“The amount of time it requires is large. The fact that students had just taken the ACT–and virtually all of our students have taken the ACT as juniors this year–and that many are already taking Advanced Placement tests as well, that added another layer of time out of class to take an exam,” Kelly explained.

Others in the district have concerns about the PARCC test, too. District 214’s Director of Research and Evaluation Jeffrey Smith is hesitant about the current usefulness of the exam.

“Many have raised questions about the grade-level appropriateness of questions and the validity of the content. Perhaps more importantly for our schools is the significant amount of time and resources the tests take to implement and the number of hours students will miss of classroom instruction,” he said.

And, at the end of the day, what is it good for? Why are students taking this test?

“PARCC has a lot of potential. While these standards are not perfect, they are an important initiative to provide accountability and transparency that schools, districts, and states are providing a sufficient education for all students and preparing them to be successful in life,” Smith said.

The PARCC may be a better overall assessment of student and school ability, but as of right now, it won’t be helping students get into college, and that causes a severe lack of motivation for students. If there isn’t any sort of reward for excellence or punishment for failure, why bother? It’s no different than the phenomena of second semester senioritis, when seniors have been accepted into colleges already and feel they have no goal to work towards, nothing hanging over their heads. Then their college rescinds their offer, and suddenly a semester of slacking has caught up to them.

PARCC is no different. While it may not seem like there’s any sort of consequence, the district and school will be punished if they do not comply to new state laws and regulations.

“The state has made it very clear that students may not opt out of the PARCC assessment, and as a district we are faithfully implementing PARCC. Participation in PARCC is important in order for the data collected to have any relevance for students, teachers, administration or the state. A significant amount of funding for our district is also dependent upon at least 95 percent of students participating,” said Smith.

Again, Kelly has very similar feelings.

“We always will do what we’re required to do by the state, and we’ll do it the way we’ve been told to do it. Every time we’re asked to do that, we do that. My concern is the effect on students who feel so over-tested already, that is the part that concerns me,” he explained.

The negatives appear again.

PARCC testing seemingly gives no prize for doing well, and it takes time that students and teachers would rather not give. Fortunately, those in our school and district understand, and they won’t be piling on PARCC test prep to the already considerable amount of work students do to prepare for exams. The items on the test seem to already coincide with what students are learning in the classroom, and until it becomes evident what PARCC can do for students, no additional preparatory measures will be taken.

“We feel like our curriculum already does the things that students would need to do to be successful on that examifandwhenitreallycountsforsomethingsignificant for the student,” Kelly said.

“When a student feels like the test matters, they take it seriously, they do their very best. When a student is not sure the test matters, a student is far less likely to give it their very best effort,” he elaborated.

Therein lies the problem. What is this test good for?

“…The PARCC may eventually be a better measure of actual student learning and growth than the EPAS (EXPLORE, PLAN, IACT and ACT) suite of assessments

that we have used for the last ten years. We just don’t know yet,” Smith said.

Until then, nothing changes. Students will take the test again in May, and, again, the school will cooperate. Kelly is appreciative of the effort EG students have made so far, and, thankfully, understands their opinions.

“We want to keep our focus where we think it should be: really good, important content and skills in classes. We want to help students prepare for the things that will get them a positive benefit,” Kelly said.