Fear and Trepidation Relief: Un-packing the PARCC Assessment

A Parent/Teacher Guide to understanding 3 essential instructional shifts in teaching and learning

     Very good information, if poorly distributed, can have confusing and damaging consequences. In such cases one must deconstruct a previously held set of beliefs and reconstruct a new way of thinking about them. This is what we are currently engaged in as public education is shifting students toward increased competence in engagement with “thinking; students learn to build a meta-cognitive file cabinet, filled with file folders of things to think about.

     Love it or hate it, some iteration of student assessment will continue. I personally like the elevation of student performance expectations and think they are long overdue. Sending students off to the world of college or careers requires that they possess a developed system of thinking and communicating.

Teachers have long followed a traditional instructional pedagogy that supported teaching students at their instructional level; material that is not too hard, but which contain some comprehension challenges. When students read at their instructional level they read with 90% fluency and can understand the language, syntax, and meaning of that particular piece of text.

The instructional level text is a comfortable place for teachers and students to dwell. Frustrational level texts, on the other hand, are like the new kids that moved onto your well established block growing up. We don’t immediately like them, but we don’t quite know why. We wonder if they are here to stay. We wonder if we should get to know them. kids-moving-house-bill4-640x2901

The PARRC assessment is not unlike those new kids. The assessment measures students’ progress toward meeting grade level Common Core performance standards. Frustrational level texts have moved into the classroom as the dominant instructional content to prepare students, through reading, to learn to think like scientists, world geographers and culture specialists, mathematicians, technologists, and engineers. These texts have replaced the literary story-based reading passages that predominated in earlier testing formats.

With the Common Core standards, texts with unfamiliar vocabulary embedded within a reading framework that does not contain characters, setting, conflict, and conflict resolution have moved into the literacy block and for good reason.

One of the factors that holds many students back from participating fully in collaborative conversations with classmates and providing a framework for their thinking is a lack of background knowledge on a subject. Providing text that increases students’ knowledge of the world with the language used to talk and write about the text requires a different kind of teacher preparedness.

Discomfort that accompanies transition from the known to the unknown is universal, and that includes getting used to a new assessment to measure student progress. There is s murmur of angst from “sea to shining sea” about the PARRC. Many are discomforted. But do we know why?

As a parent, a teacher, teacher-trainer, and an interested observer of the “big picture” of educational reform, our fear and trepidation over Common Core and the PARCC is over-rated.

To be continued…

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