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We’ve finally started to receive our student-level results here in Colorado from the first year of PARCC tests, which were given way back in the halcyon days when Donald Trump was just a reality TV creature. During the interim 10 months—and, come to think of it, even before a single student had faced a single PARCC question—the tests were getting a rough ride here in Colorado and across the country.

As part of the perfect-storm backlash against the Common Core and over-testing, there was a strong opt-out movement, concerns about technological glitches with the move to online tests, and widespread fretting that the tests are just too hard.

Here in Douglas County, there were high opt-out numbers (mostly at our high schools) and our Board of Education even sought a district-wide PARCC waiver.

So I was a bit worried that our kids’ scores would come home kind of wrapped in old newspaper, reeking of “these don’t really mean anything” disclaimers.

But instead, we got a thoughtful, supportive, helpful letter from our principal. Here’s my favorite part:

When you view your student’s individual score report, please keep in mind that these scores cannot be compared to old test scores. The new tests measure different things, such as a student’s ability to think critically and problem solve—skills that are critical to success in college and career in the 21st Century. Also, remember that these tests were given at the end of the previous school year. They represent a single point in time, and are just one of the many factors that can be used together to provide a complete picture of your student’s progress. Scores always take longer to produce during the first year of any new test, but in future years, we expect to receive our student’s scores much earlier to help inform teachers’ instruction for the coming school year.

Because the standards reflect higher expectations than previous state tests, we anticipate fewer students will score in the higher performance levels. This, however, does not mean students are performing worse. Rather, the state has raised the rigor of the test.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

PARCC is a harder—and better—test. It’s a much higher bar—a more reliable measure of how well our kids are progressing in each grade, on their way to whatever path they choose after high school.

And we now have the numbers to see just how low the CSAP/TCAP bar was.

We can see for the first time how the new PARCC proficiency results compare to the scores on CSAP/TCAP—the previous test developed by the state when NCLB and its perverse low-bar incentives were the law of the land. And we can also see how scores compare to the nationally administered NAEP test, which has been called the “gold standard” of student assessments.

In 2014 68.9% of CO 4th graders scored at or above proficiency in language arts in TCAP tests.
In 2015 39% of CO 4th graders scored at or above proficiency in language arts on NAEP tests.
In 2015 42% of CO 4th graders scored at or above proficiency in language on PARCC tests.

In 2014 56.4% of CO 4th graders scored at or above proficiency in math on TCAP tests.
In 2015 43% of CO 4th graders scored at or above proficiency in math on NAEP tests.
In 2015 30% of CO 4th graders scored at or above proficiency in math on PARCC tests.

The comparisons look very much the same for 8th grade.

But it’s not good enough, of course, just to raise the bar and get a truer read on our kids’ learning. We also need to do more to help kids reach the bar and fly past it. That should start with getting results back faster, so parents, teachers, and students can start right away on using that feedback to see strengths and address areas that need improvement, as our school’s letter points out.

And we need more helpful guidance for parents, like this advice from a literacy specialist in Denver, and this online toolkit (in 10 different languages) from the Denver Public Schools.

I hope we’re past the “let’s ditch PARCC” part of the discussion here in Colorado. Several other states have gone that route, and incurred needless cost, confusion, and consternation.

PARCC isn’t perfect. But our focus should be on making it better, making the results more useful for teachers and parents, and ensuring our kids have everything they need to succeed.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?