Laurel HS Teacher Testifies at Board of Education about PARCC Testing

The following was presented as a public comment at the Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting on March 26, 2015. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Good evening. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak tonight.

I am Cheryl Davis and have been involved in education for over 25 years.  I am an English teacher at Laurel High School (with 13 years of experience teaching Advanced Placement English); I have been a business writing consultant; I have been an adjunct professor; and I have even been a home and hospital teacher. This year and last, I have seen more disruption in the education of my students–caused by  poor Common Core Standards implementation and unreasonable testing requirements–than I have in over two decades  of teaching. Last year as a tenth grade teacher, I was alarmed at the number of the days devoted to pre-testing, teaching to the test and benchmark  testing.  I was so concerned that I wrote my elected officials in February about the amount of instruction time my students were losing: We had devoted 20 percent of class time to “testing days.”

I wrote about one student who had  confided that she was living with over ten family members; she had been sick but didn’t have medical insurance; her father was working and couldn’t take her to the doctor.  She was concerned about missing school, but she wasn’t well enough to come each day though she wanted to.  When she came back to school, I couldn’t help her catch up with her missing assignments because I had to give her yet another mandated test.  I continue to be upset by this incident.

This year, we are preparing, practicing, and participating in PARCC testing.  Our tenth graders who take both English and Algebra will be taking tests for about 11 hours. Now, compare that to other academic tests:

SAT, 4 hour,

AP, 3 hours,

Admission to law school, 4 hours,

Admission to medical school, 3 hours.

Admission to 11th grade, 11 hours of PARCC testing.

What’s on the test that can possibly take 11 hours? You would think you could find an answer by looking at the PARCC tests.  But, that’s not possible.  Unlike the SAT and AP exams, the PARCC test is behind a shroud of secrecy: teachers haven’t been allowed to see what is on the actual test.  Teachers who proctor cannot look at the test items; that’s a breach of test security.  Student can’t tell their teachers what they didn’t understand; that’s a breach of test security.  And since the students’ social media accounts are being monitored, they can’t discuss the test because that, too, is a breach of security–a private company is monitoring students’ social media accounts for references to PARCC.  Why is there this shroud of secrecy?  Shouldn’t students, teachers, and parents  know what material is on the test? Education is a collaborative, transparent process. Think about  Wikipedia: anyone can find anything, anytime and discuss, evaluate, and debate with friends and colleagues. Now think about PARCC: testing based on guarded secrets.

Although we will never be able to see the real PARCC test , we can take practice tests online.   I’d like to share a sample PARCC question. After students read Justice Hugo Black’s dissenting argument  in the Tinker v. Des Moines case, they are asked, “What is the meaning of arrogate (a-r-r-o-g-a-t-e)as it is used in this sentence? Please take the practice tests online to find the definition of this word that students are expected to define in context. This developmentally inappropriate question is one of many questions that are unfair to students.  Other practice questions are confusing and ambiguous.

I’m ending with three questions. One, will students learn from taking this test?  Two, will teachers improve instruction based on this test?  Three, will parents be able to help their children?  The answer to all three questions is no. The results will be released as long as six months after the school year is over.  These tests have been not field tested, so any results that are shared should be questioned; they  can not  be trusted. We owe our students more.  Our students and their parents trust us, you and me, with their futures.

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