By Chris Aviles
PARCC has officially kicked off at Fair Haven School District in New Jersey! Despite a few minor hiccups and one massive snowstorm, I’m happy to report that overall, rollout is going smoothly. The logistics of shuffling students in and out of the testing labs have been our biggest challenge and while I heard reports of the PARCC hotline experiencing some downtime, the live chat feature on the PARCC website has been our greatest troubleshooting savior. In this first week, we responded quickly to some unforeseen software updates and adjusted our schedule to accommodate weather delays, but the biggest win in my book? Our post-PARCC survey shows student spirits are high.
Our early PARCC success is certainly attributable to the preparation executed by our talented leadership team and amazing teaching staff. We did not overly emphasize tested skills or overload students with arduous practice tests, but rather, focused on providing sound instruction, concentrated on critical thinking and enhanced by transformative technology. In prioritizing this type of learning, we believe PARCC will take care of itself. I was quite happy to find that after a bit of playtime with the PARCC testing modules, students generally seemed to decide, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.”
While familiarity with the PARCC testing environment is important, I’ve continued to find that most Fair Haven students are simply not intimidated by the technology. They have been digitally immersed from a young age and generally aren’t stressed to be taking computer-based assessments. Our school, like many across the state and country, sees significant value in building the digital aptitude of students in this increasingly technological era. We’ve focused on creating daily opportunities for online learning and we are continually seeking to improve how we integrate technology into the classroom, knowing that surely, there is always room to grow in that space.
Beyond ensuring that our students feel tech-ready, calming the anxiety of any worried students was another focus, particularly given the level of debate surrounding PARCC. We encouraged our students to think of PARCC like going to see the doctor. Just in the same way that kids check in with their doctor once a year to see how they are growing, we reinforced that PARCC is simply a tool to give students an academic check-up and see how much they grow every year. To really bring this home, I made a short informational video for the students to give more context about the test and questions they might see, to explain why it’s important to do their best, but most of all, to assure them they need not worry. It’s just a check-up!
I’d be lying if I said that the transition to new assessments didn’t require significant time and resources or that I didn’t have reservations about introducing standardized testing as early as third grade. PARCC is not the silver bullet, but I do see value in evolving our assessments for the twenty-first century and I do support low-stakes standardized testing as one tool of many to help identify successful or struggling students and schools. We can’t expect to go from zero to a perfect online assessment in the first year, but it is hard to dispute that PARCC isn’t part of the next logical step in measuring student learning. I’d like to see us do our best to stay informed, to note problems to address as the assessment is rolling out and to help make positive changes for the years to come.