Administration of a controversial “high stakes” standardized test given last week to students in the North Ridgeville City Schools went smoothly, according to the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.
However, the president of district’s teachers union said the tests were rolled out too quickly, leaving teachers and administrators scrambling to properly administer the test.
Just 15 students elected to opt out of taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which was administered to students in grades three through nine.
PARCC, which is in its first year, measures students’ progress in both mathematics and English language arts/literacy and aligns with the Common Core State Standards.
The tests, which are administered on computers, have been criticized by teachers and parent groups for myriad reasons, including teachers spending too much classroom time prepping students for the exams, to the test causing too much anxiety for the students who are taking them. Critics also cite the fact the tests are given on computers, and that some of the younger students don’t have the keyboarding skills necessary to work on computers. Others criticize the questions on the test, saying they are tricky and sometimes there are multiple correct answers.
David Pritt, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the first day the tests were given, which was on Feb. 17, went smoothly, with the exception of some minor technology glitches.
“It didn’t keep us from getting anything we had to get done or scheduled,” Pritt said.
Pritt downplayed concerns from parents and teachers that too much time is being spent preparing students for the tests, because ultimately the preparation focuses on the “standards” the district adheres to in both math and English/language arts.
“We talk with our teachers, and the best prep for any test is teaching standards, and right now the test reflects the standards we have in place, which is what they do every day,” Pritt said.
Pritt indicated that much of the controversy hovering around PARCC testing could be because it’s new.
“It’s a little different this year in that it’s a brand-new system, so the kids are getting used to it,” Pritt said.
Pritt also downplayed concerns that PARCC and standardized testing as a whole is causing undue anxiety for students.
“I’m not sure there is any more anxiety with this than there was at any time of the high-stakes test before this. That’s always been there. I remember when I was student teaching, and this was 15 years ago (that there were concerns about the student anxiety caused by standardized testing),” Pritt said.
Parents who did choose to opt out their child from taking the test were contacted by the principal of the building that child attended, Pritt said, “just to make sure they got factual information (about the test). If they still choose to opt out, it’s (the) parent’s (prerogative) right now,” Pritt said.
Michael McMillan, the president of the North Ridgeville Education Association, the union that represents the district’s teachers, said the teachers in the district are concerned about excessive standardized testing, but most chose not to express those concerns vocally as teachers in other districts have.
“The general voice is, our kids are way overtested,” McMillan said.
Teachers come up to him on a daily basis, McMillan said, and tell him their frustration over standardized testing has them wanting to quit the profession: “If it wasn’t for the kids and it wasn’t for their strong belief in doing what was right, you’d probably have more teachers like the teacher in Elyria who said, ‘I’m done. I didn’t sign up for this.’ Most people are going to have the perseverance to wait this out. (In) two or three years, it may be different,” McMillan said.
McMillan pointed out that all the standardized testing in the state of Ohio will be done by the end of April, leaving more than a month in the school year.
“What drives the education at that point? They don’t have the test set up to measure a whole year’s (worth) of growth. The whole system is just messed up.”
McMillan also illustrated how preparing for the tests can disrupt education. An art teacher, McMillan said because of an upcoming schedule that involves the administering of tests, he won’t be able to move on to the next section of his class, which involves the making of clay whistles.
“I can’t teach my kids how to make a clay whistle because I won’t have enough instructional time … to be able to do it until Easter break,” McMillan said.
On the first day of testing last week McMillan’s class, which is usually 52 minutes long, was cut to 20 minutes.
“We got in this profession to teach. The least amount of what we are doing now because what the state and everybody else is dictating … is teaching,” McMillan said.