Stepping off the PARCC Hamster Wheel

Posted by Charles Sampson on 9/28/2016

When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we found a lever to potentially stop the hamster wheel of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) examinations in New Jersey, the pitfalls of which have been detailed here by my colleague, Dr. David Aderhold.  

New Jersey is doubling down on standardized assessments despite decades of educational research and centuries of common sense insisting that it takes more than a single score to understand student achievement, teacher effectiveness, or any relationship between the two.  There are serious questions we must ask about whether PARCC should even be considered as one of multiple measures, let alone stand as the only measure. Look here and here for sobering news about the future of PARCC.

ESSA provides an opportunity to unhitch our wagon from the reactionary “test and punish” regime unleashed by its predecessor No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and work together to craft a more balanced approach to measuring the academic success of our children. See this rundown of the opportunities within ESSA to rethink our tired approach to accountability.

We must rally behind those possibilities. 

I hope we can follow a more sensible approach to determine which measurements of “achievement” ring true in 2016 and beyond. Those measurements do not lie in the ability to decipher and solve a four step word problem unlike any other problem we will face in our lives. Rather, those measurements should include standardized assessments as one piece of a larger portfolio that demonstrates the whole of a student’s goals and experiences in our school systems. Otherwise, that four step math problem becomes the summation of a child’s educational experience. I do not want that for the children I serve. I certainly do not want that for my own children.

We live in a world in which children’s play dates are scheduled and structured, youth sports extend year round, and the national education agenda is unclear. It is striking to me that education is a minor talking point in the presidential election conversations and debates. However, in New Jersey and elsewhere, big decisions are being made about tests, careers, and graduation requirements that may go beyond what ESSA imagined, all while parents juggle their children’s calendars.

Why wouldn’t we step off that hamster wheel to see if there’s a better way?