by Lori Morrow
Over the next two months, PGCPS will administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test for the third year. For more about PARCC visit the PGCPS website at http://www1.pgcps.org/parcc/.
In late September 2016, PGCPS announced that students had made gains on the PARCC test at most grade levels. However, there was an exception for seventh grade, my child’s grade. According to a PGCPS press release, “Overall, the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations was higher this year, with the exception of the seventh-grade math test, whose testing pool excluded higher-performing students enrolled in eighth-grade math or Algebra I.”
I had initially missed the note about this “exception” but began to look closer at PARCC scores on the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Maryland Report Card after receiving my son’s individual score sheet in October. I was surprised to see so few Level 4 or Level 5 scores for the Math 7 test; those blocks were labeled only with an asterisk, indicating less than 5%. Why had this cohort—students who took the MSA in fifth grade and started with PARCC in sixth grade—fallen behind?
In an email response, PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell said that the apparent drop for the Math 7 scores was due to a change in the testing pool. He explained that in the spring of 2015, seventh-grade students, regardless of their math class, took the PARCC score aligned with their grade, Math 7. However, in 2016, PGCPS chose to have seventh-grade students enrolled in Honors Math/Accelerated 2 take the Math 8 PARCC exam, since the accelerated course curriculum was designed to cover Math 7 and 8. This is a question that I never thought to ask when I attended PARCC nights in the spring, but it made a difference in the score results.
On the MSDE website, it is not intuitive that some students are tested at a level other than their assigned grade before high school. Results are broken down by test level and demographics but not by student’s grade. Furthermore, my follow-up questions to PGCPS about the results of seventh graders alone were met with the answer that the information was not publicly available. I knew that my child’s score level had dropped from taking the Math 6 PARCC test in sixth grade to taking the Math 8 PARCC in seventh grade, but I wanted to know how the rest of the seventh graders in Honors/Accelerated 2 fared on the Math 8 exam. After filing a Maryland Public Information Act request, I received the results.
As the chart depicts, only 274 (4%) non-Honors seventh graders Met or Exceeded expectations (Level 4 or 5). Of the Accelerated 2/Honors 7th Graders, 718 (32%) Met or Exceeded expectations. By comparison, that also means that 904 (11.6%) of the eighth graders taking Math 8 scored a Level 4 or 5 once the seventh graders were removed from the data. (Eighth graders in Algebra take the Algebra 1 PARCC). Because of the change in the testing pool and the fact that we are still only in the third year of PARCC, it is difficult to truly compare the cohorts from one year to the next, but it is clear that there is much room for improvement in math.
As for the upcoming testing in the spring of 2017, a middle school testing coordinator has stated that seventh graders will return to taking the Math 7 PARCC this year. When the scores are released this fall, it will be worth noting whether the Math 7 scores show an increase due to the change in testing pool. Furthermore, will the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations continue to rise? How will factors like the large number of staff on administrative leave affect the results? In future school years, will the Maryland state bill limiting standardized testing change the administration of PARCC? Time will tell.