Pencils on way out

First Posted: 2/12/2015

“Which equation represents the relationship between x and y shown in the graph?”

Students have been answering questions like this for years, and as testing begins this week, this year is no different.

What is different, however, is how they’ll be answering them.

PARCC and the Common Core

Rather than pencil and paper, students will take on questions with a mouse and computer monitor. The technological advancement is a result of the new state mandated PARCC — or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — testing, which was created as a way to evaluate students, teachers, schools and districts based on the Common Core State Initiative.

Ohio agreed to adopt the Common Core after the Department of Education received federal Race to the Top education grants in 2010. It became a member of PARCC a year later, giving schools two years before implementing the new standards and one year after to prepare for new standardized testing.

With the new format, students’ math and English skills will be tested with higher expectations compared to years past. Distributed in units at the beginning and end of the year, more time will be spent testing, as well. It will also be used to assess teachers’ abilities and compliance with new curriculum. The same is true for schools and their districts.

From the changes, school officials in Allen County recognize some advantages, like the chance to prepare students for online test formats and simpler security protocols.

On the other hand, officials are also able to recognize the turbulence caused by change.

“In the first year with anything there’s going to be challenges,” said Tony Cox, Elida Local School District superintendent. “I think this is an example of that.”

The 11th Hour

In trying to prepare for the new assessments, Jill Ackerman, Lima City School District superintendent, said it hasn’t been easy as schools received a constant stream of guidelines, expectations and rules.

“They’ve really waited until the 11th hour,” she said.

The district’s testing coordinator, Jackie Blosser, said some of the booklets outlining expectations for the test didn’t even make its way to the district until December.

“We had to scramble,” she said. “It’s been a lot on our staff.”

Though superintendents in Allen County aren’t concerned with system issues after spending countless hours preparing with faculty and staff, they are frustrated with the lack of guidance or prep-time offered by the state.

“It has not come to us with a lot of time to prepare,” Ackerman said. “But I can’t speak highly enough about the people of this district.”

As schools fight to stay up to date, parents in the area have struggled to keep up with PARCC test requirements, too.

“I’m just confused,” said Susan Smith, the parent of a sixth-grader at Elida Middle School. “I don’t really know what this is or what it means for my child.”

As a result, some parents are deciding to opt out of PARCC tests for their children. In a statement, the Department of Education said the decision could negatively effect students, their teachers, schools and districts because the results of each test or group factor into evaluations as well as standards set later on.

“It just seems like a lot,” said Jeff Donley, the parent of an eighth-grader at Elida Middle School. “I just don’t have a good idea of what this is totally all about. It’s a completely different format from when I was in school.”

An ease of mind

In an effort to ease the mind of educators, the state has determined results from this year’s testing will not affect schools in anyway as educators and their students learn and transition to the new system.

Last week, Ohio’s House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 7, which will award protection for students taking new state assessments during the 2014-15 school year. The bill prohibits schools from using test scores in determining students’ advancement to the next grade and restricts them from sharing individual results to outside sources without consent.

This, paired with “Safe Harbor,” an initiative passed by legislators a year ago that will put a hold on any high stakes decisions because of test scores, provides some leeway for schools and students. However, Ohio will still use scores to set performance standards for coming years.

Cox and Ackerman, as well as their testing coordinators, insist that local schools have done everything possible to prepare themselves and their students.

“We don’t want to rescue ourselves from a challenge,” said Faith Cummings, Elida Local School District director of curriculum, instruction, assessment & professional development. “We understand there are things we would probably do differently and after this first round we’ll be able to come together and make those recommendations.”

But for now, she said, they’re ready.

“Bring it on.”

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