A 14-year-old student named Jordan Barron who is a freshman at Mahwah High School in New Jersey recently shared his thoughts about the Common Core test known as PARCC with members of the New Jersey Board of Education— and he was pretty strong in his opinion. He called dealing with the test “the most stressful thing I’ve done in school” and he challenged board members to take it.
PARCC is the acronym for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two multi-state consortia that received a combined $360 million from the Obama administration to develop new tests aligned to the Common Core state standards. The PARCC and the test by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are being given to students officially for the first time this school year.
The original intent behind the creation of new Common Core tests is that they would be more sophisticated and able to assess more complex thinking skills than previous standardized tests. Assessment experts say they have fallen far short of being the “game-changing” exams that had been expected. A number of states that had originally committed to using the PARCC exam have pulled out.
Last July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) issued an executive order that created a task force to study the PARCC and other standardized tests given to students over two years, during which the state will put less weight on the use of student scores on PARCC to evaluate teachers.
Jordan Barron’s testimony reflects concerns that have been expressed by many students and educators about the difficulty of taking the test on the computer. The PARCC and SBAC were created to be taken on the computer, but paper versions will be given in some places initially. During field testing last year, there were considerable problems in some places with the computers used to give the tests, and concerns remain that the same thing will happen this spring.
Here is his testimony:
Hello, New Jersey Board of Education members. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my concerns and suggestions. My name is Jordan Barron and I’m a Freshman at Mahwah High School in Mahwah, NJ.
To be honest, I’m extremely confused as to why Common Core has been accepted by you as the learning standard here in New Jersey.
In my school, we are offered an “elective” (which we cannot choose but rather are placed into) called College and Career Readiness. This class is titled to sound as if it’s preparing me for life. However, this class is just making me work on math problems I’ve already completed in my Algebra class and occasionally (without warning) taking the PARCC practice exam.
On a side note, have any of you board members ever taken that exam to see what it’s like? Well, it’s the most stressful thing I’ve done in school. I would like the board members to draw a parentheses, square root exponent on a piece of paper. That was easy, right? With the PARCC practice exam, we can’t write down the equation because the test is taken on a computer. The buttons to accomplish these mathematical operations are scattered about and difficult to find and then when we finally click it and “write” out the equation, we’ve wasted 10-15 minutes of test time.
In fact, it’s so convoluted that my class had to be given a lesson on accomplishing these operations. A 55-minute class for “writing” square roots, parentheses, exponents and so on. I can easily write these on a piece of paper. And this is just the math part of the exam. The Language Arts part (as I quote from a teacher), “is not for freshmen.”
We had to write a Research Simulated Task, or RST, about “Romeo and Juliet” that was taken from the PARCC. It included words we didn’t know and documents about courtship, love and reasons why couples divorce.
WHY should I, as a freshman, have to know why couples divorce?
Students aren’t allowed to receive teacher assistance during the exam, not even to help with computer glitches. During the practice test, my peers and I were raising our hands left and right for help. If that were the real test, we would all fail and my teachers would lose more freedom by having to “teach to the test” even more.
That’s another problem: TEACHING TO THE TEST! When did we make the shift from teachers going to school for years to learn how to teach and engage students to teachers going to school for years to learn how to give a test?
One of my favorite teachers who encouraged me and has made me a fan of Language Arts and writing is thinking of retiring because she can’t teach her students individually anymore. She has to teach the way people in offices with titles that include the word education, believe is best for the children.
Teachers have an ability to touch a child in a way no other human can and this gift is something they have worked very hard to perfect. Teachers know their success as teachers is strongly dependent upon their ability to change their instruction in order to reach each child. A child isn’t a robot you can program for a task. A child is a living, breathing piece of clay that can be gently molded and encouraged to blossom into something great.
If a teacher loses the ability to tailor their instruction, we might as well have robots in the classroom who would be as cold and heartless as the computerized tests they give.