Metro

R.I. public schools test NECAP replacement

55,000 students nationwide, including 7,000 R.I. students, participate in trial run

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2014

About 7,000 Rhode Island students have participated in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers ­— a test slated to replace the New England Common Assessment Program evaluations as the official state assessment for grades three to 10 in Rhode Island next year ­­— said Elliot Krieger, public information officer at the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are participating in the field tests, which began March 24 and will last until April 11. As of April 1, over 55,000 students nationwide completed field tests, according to the PARCC’s website.

“Nationally, problems have been few and far between,” Krieger said of the test administration. “There’s been small glitches, but nothing major.”

The state plans to test 9,000 students by next Friday, Krieger said. Randomly selected schools with representation from each district and grade level will be tested, he added.

Rhode Island high school juniors will continue to take NECAP evaluations next year, he added, but will transition to the PARCC in the 2015-16 school year.

The PARCC is one of two national assessments that adhere to the Common Core State Standards, which have been voluntarily adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia.

The Common Core State Standards are academic expectations for each grade level that were created to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in college or a career upon graduation from high school.

The Common Core will align different education standards so they are consistent across states, said Kenneth Wong, professor of education. “I’m glad Rhode Island is part of (the) PARCC instead of sitting outside the Common Core,” he added.

The test is also designed to be a strong indicator of students’ college readiness, Wong said.

Students are usually required to take the NECAP in late October. “It is actually a measure of students’ knowledge from the previous year, which is kind of odd,” Wong said.

PARCC tests will be administered biannually, with the first round consisting of performance-based assessments in April, followed by end-of-year assessments in May. End-of-year field testing will occur this year from May 5 to June 6.

Though the Common Core State Standards are valuable, it may be difficult for the state to make the transition to the PARCC, said Lawrence Purtill, president of the National Education Association in Rhode Island. “I think we’re rushing it,” he said.

On March 25, the association called for a delay on PARCC administration, but as of now, the plan to transition to the new test next year has not been changed.

“If you are going to use (the PARCC) for evaluation, you have to make sure curriculum is in place, teachers and students have had time to adapt to it and the resources are there,” Purtill said.

The implementation of the PARCC is happening “ridiculously quick,” said Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union. Before Rhode Island starts to evaluate teachers based on how students perform on the PARCC assessment, it needs to be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt that this is the best assessment we could have come up with,” she added.

Over the past four years, Rhode Island has invested $12 million from Race to the Top funds in preparing teachers for the transition to the Common Core State Standards, Krieger said. “I think our schools are ready for the transition to the Common Core,” he added, noting that the usage of the PARCC as a tool for evaluating teachers will come gradually.

Some student field-test takers said PARCC questions were harder than those on the NECAP, Krieger said. “This may be true. Standards may be a little higher,” he added.

“Common Core learning objectives are geared toward critical, analytical skills,” Wong said. “Developing the literacy understanding and reading comprehension is more critical now because that’s part of college readiness.”

Proficiency levels may drop with the new test, but Wong said schools should not be held “accountable for the pilot year” since students will be adjusting to the test format.

“I think the teacher will have to play a different role, almost as coaches, rather than just lecturing the students,” Wong said. The “PARCC poses a cultural shift in the way teachers perform their task in the classroom, and this is not easy.”

The change in test will not alter one of the most controversial aspects of state assessment policy — the use of a standardized test as a graduation requirement. Beginning with the high school class of 2017, students will need to pass the PARCC to graduate.

“I’m not in favor of one assessment being a determining factor into whether or not a child can graduate from a school,” Calabro said.

Unlike the NECAP, PARCC exams are computer-based and will be administered on laptops.

The transition to computer testing means teachers will get student results more quickly, and will likely know the testing outcomes before the school year is finished, Krieger said.

Schools can provide a paper-and-pencil version to students if they are not technologically ready, Calabro said. “I don’t think we have the technology, and I know we don’t have the money,” she added.

“In two or three years, they will phase out the pen-and-pencil” exam, Wong said. “This is creating a necessary incentive for schools and teachers and students to start paying attention to digital tools.”

Purtill said he is concerned about schools having the necessary resources to administer computerized tests, especially in urban areas where there are older buildings.

“This implementation might create some disparity between rural and urban, and haves and have-nots,” Wong said.

Many classrooms have wireless connectivity issues, Calabro said. The Rhode Island General Assembly will provide $20 million for schools to obtain wireless service in preparation for the PARCC, the Providence Journal reported.

Krieger said so far there has not been a major Internet problem during Rhode Island field tests.

Some are concerned that too much class time is being taken up by testing. “We are spending too much time worrying about the test,” Purtill said, as opposed to worrying about instruction.

Krieger said assessment goes “hand in hand with instruction” and always will. State assessments take up less than 1 percent of classroom time during the year, he added.

But after reviewing the district assessment calendar and hearing teacher testimonials, Calabro concluded that in elementary schools, 70 days of the academic year are at least partially dedicated to state- and district-mandated assessments. “Saying kids are being over-assessed would be a gross understatement,” Calabro said.

Calabro noted that the administration dates of current PARCC field tests are coinciding with various other assessments, including end-of-quarter pilot exams and spring NECAP exams.

 

A previous version of this article incorrectly described the NECAP as a multiple-choice assessment. In fact, it includes both multiple-choice and extended-response sections. The Herald regrets the error.

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