PARCC and my special needs children

By Tim Carter

I am the proud father of twin 4th grade boys. My boys spend much of their free time exploring both music and technology, they seize any opportunity to practice their Spanish speaking skills and nearly every day, they change their mind about what they want to do when they grow up. They also both have special educational needs.

It has always been a priority for my family that our boys sit in inclusion classrooms where they receive the same instruction and opportunities as other students. So in this first year of PARCC, it was important to us that our boys be included in the assessment. We don’t believe a single test score should define achievement, but we see significant value in gaining a general understanding of how our boys compare to their peers and in setting a benchmark that we can use to assess their educational growth from year to year. We didn’t want our boys to miss out on those benefits.

So, working closely with our caseworker and our school’s administration, we made a plan for accommodation. Our caseworker had invited us to the school to better understand the experience of special needs students within inclusion classrooms and, as part of this visit, we observed the class in the language lab, exercising skills they would utilize on PARCC. We stayed for over an hour and were quite impressed by the level of information provided. Certainly not all New Jersey parents were afforded such an opportunity, so we were incredibly appreciative for the chance to learn about this new test and their general classroom experience in person. While at first we were hesitant to have our boys separated from their classmates for testing, with the help of our caseworker, we ultimately decided our boys will take the test in a separate room so that without pressure, they can take the extra time they need.

Like many parents following and participating in the recent education debates, my partner and I have used this transition as an opportunity to engage at a deeper level in our children’s education. I understand the concern of some parents about an overload of testing and in many ways I share it. I wonder, how can we build more experiential learning into our children’s classrooms? And how can we ensure kids are getting out of the classroom to learn and apply key concepts on field trips? I would love to see us parents use this moment, with involvement in education swelling, to continue to ask these important questions. Though I do not believe, that worthwhile solutions necessarily stand at odds with the use of smart assessments.

We know the test won’t go perfectly. This is a brand new assessment and students, parents and teachers alike will have to learn from any bumps in the road. Our boys are not the best test takers and we expect PARCC will be a challenge for them. We’ve done our best to make sure they know what to expect and when, but most of all, we’ve sought to reinforce that they only need to give this test their best shot. That’s it.

Tim Carter is a parent in West Orange.

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