Thursday, April 28, 2016

How Does a Veteran PARCC Refuser Feel About PARCC?

It's almost May, which means it's almost PARCC Season here in our school district. This year we're only taking the "End-of-Year" test, which I have to put in quotes because the 4th marking period is barely underway: this is NOT the END of the year by any means, not with 7-8 weeks left! (Last year we had a PARCC window just before Spring Break and another only a couple weeks afterward - NUTS!)

At any rate, neither child took PARCC last year,  and our refusal letters have been sent for this year as well. This afternoon, The Monkey began to write down her thoughts about PARCC: she wanted a "brain dump," a place where she could put into words her impressions from last year and some thoughts about the test and how she'd like to spend the time this year, hoping that they could be read publicly. I haven't really edited, just posting what she wrote, in her own words, at her request. Without further ado, I give you: MONKEY!

My idea of the PARCC testing
By: 5th grader at MES

    I am a 5th grade student at MES, and I have to go through the PARCC testing. I am in 5th grade, so this is only my second year of refusing PARCC (in 3rd grade, I had to take the MSA instead). As I have not actually taken PARCC, I do not know what the actual test is like (but I have taken the sample ELA test). I am assuming though, that it is not very easy, because when I was in 4th grade, and, if I remember correctly, they gave us 95 minutes for the test with 60 questions I think they said. So it must have been hard. Even if they had taken one minute for each question, it still would have left us with only an hour to do the test. Maybe because they wanted us to finish in time.

    At one point in the PARCC testing, they said to the 4th grade students something like, “And at the end of the test, you will find a question where you must make up a short story at least three paragraphs long, using the words below.” That was one of the questions! It starts to make me wonder how hard the test really is. That also brings me to think, if it’s really that hard for all of the questions, then maybe the test is too hard for the students, and therefore might be an unfair test to young students. My mom told me that they use the students grades on PARCC, partly to test the teachers. If they give the students a really hard test, then their score wouldn’t be high, and then the teachers would need to teach “better”. I like my teacher just the way she is. She is a great teacher.

     My mom also told me that in the manual, the people who made PARCC said that non-testing students can’t be seated in the room with the testing students, because it would be a distraction to the other testing students. [Mom's note: this was explicitly stated in last year's PARCC administration manual, although the language has been changed for 2016.] Last year, I refused the PARCC, but they still kept me at my normal seat, next to testing students. My mom asked the school if I could go help out in other classrooms, but yet, they still had me stay in the classroom for the whole testing time, every testing day. It was kind of annoying, but it did provide me with plenty of time to read or think.

    Although PARCC gave me some good things too. I missed some of class time (but not all, which was good, because I like school), so I could have a “brain-break” thing, which was very useful. I also got to read a lot because since I refused, I just sat there in the room, had the headphones on that they provided us with (to block out any distracting noise), and simply read the whole time. After that very long period of time reading, my reading grade went up. So in a way, by refusing PARCC, I improved my reading (although I am very glad that they don’t say that if we take the test, it will make us smarter, because it didn’t make me any smarter, I actually got smarter by refusing the test, although not directly.)

A couple things I would love to do instead of sitting around for an hour to two hours each time, would be:

    Help out in another classroom
    Finish any other schoolwork
    Write a story
    Do anything useful

Opt-Out 2016: Part the First

And so it begins.....

To Whom It May Concern:

    Our daughter Monkey will NOT be taking the PARCC assessments in the 2015/2016 school year. As we did last year, our family is once again refusing to participate in the PARCC testing of our children. We feel that we have much more complete and relevant information about how our children are doing from the reports their teachers give us, which comes on a timely basis and is specific to their educational needs, strengths, and weaknesses, unlike feedback from PARCC. We are primarily concerned (in academic terms) with how our daughter is learning; we are not interested in whether her education, as measured by test scores, is superior to that of children in any other jurisdiction, and we feel that the scores themselves are not likely to be indicative of the quality of her learning or of her teachers.

    We support our children’s schools and teachers, and we thank
Monkey's teachers for their teaching and support of her education thus far. However, we do not support the time and money that standardized testing takes from the school year, nor the unrealistic demands placed on students during the test (in how many real-life scenarios will they be expected to spend this many hours working at their seats in utter silence with no access to reference materials or to bathroom breaks at will, using only Chromebooks to do their work?), nor the (eventual) use of test scores to evaluate teachers and schools.

    We are aware that Maryland does not have an “opt-out” option for families. We are not “opting out;" we are declining to participate. There is no penalty to our children or to our family for this in any set of laws or codes that we can find. We are not averse to reasonable testing, nor to assessment that is ongoing and will be used to remediate academic shortcomings in our children’s learning, nor to testing that assesses what children have learned and what they can do in realistic environments and settings, nor to testing that does not turn a school’s schedule upside-down for several weeks of the school year, nor to end-of-year testing that actually takes place at the end of the school year; PARCC does not meet any of these criteria in our opinion. Additionally, in a letter from Congress clarifying ESSA policy: "Hundreds of thousands of parents have chosen to keep their children from taking state-mandated tests, and these parents have every right to determine what is in their child's best interests." (full letter attached)

    Last year during PARCC testing,
Monkey sat in the classroom and read silently while her classmates tested. (Mrs. B. & Ms. G. can fill you in on how that was handled.) While we don't object to a repeat of this activity (in fact we credit the sustained silent reading with giving her the opportunity to get focused on a book and series, and her reading has been voracious ever since), we assert once again that it would be a far better use of everyone's time for her to either have enrichment activities to complete or to have her assist in a classroom; she loves working with other kids and she loves helping teachers.

    Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about our position on PARCC testing.

Mr. & Mrs. Crunchy