By Oscar Velez
The journey to prepare PS 22 elementary school in Jersey City for PARCC began last year, shortly after I arrived as principal. Although we already conduct many of our district-wide quarterly assessments on computers, we have used this school year to integrate technology into classroom instruction so it becomes more intuitive. Students are reading and doing writing assignments on laptops regularly and teachers are being provided with resources for how best to tailor instruction. While these technology efforts will help ensure a sound testing infrastructure, the most vital aspect of our preparation for PARCC has been engaging our parents.
Beginning late last year we formed a Parent Council to invite parents into our rollout process, work with them to address questions or concerns, and help familiarize them with the test. At our last monthly meeting, about twenty-five parents took a PARCC practice test in their child’s grade. Many remarked at how challenging the test seemed and how they don’t remember covering such a variety of literature or multiplication in 3rd grade, for example.
Times have definitely changed and with it so has our school. In transitioning to the Common Core State Standards over the past few years, the skills and level of rigor on the PARCC test is already something students are experiencing in the classroom. In sharing this with parents, their sense of urgency quickly gave way to discussion of how they can best support their child.
Standardized tests are only one way to measure learning, but the data from PARCC will provide us with the first measures of how students are progressing against these new standards. On its own, this data is useless. We plan to use this new data in the best interest of students—to help identify where we need supplemental resources and better professional development for teachers. It is a snapshot of how we are all doing as a learning community.
I am looking at this year as what it is intended to be—the first year of a new test. There may be bumps in the road, as there were with NJ ASK, but we have time to get this right. This is the time for parents to be engaged in their child’s education and help hold our schools accountable to one another. Maybe after a few years they will update the test. That’s okay. We need to be constantly reflecting on our standards, curriculum, teaching and assessment. The world that we are preparing students for is changing so quickly. If we’re using the same test ten years from now, it would be a shame. Expectations are changing all the time and so should the way we assess students.
Oscar Velez is the principal of PS 22 Webb Elementary School.