21 of 22 right on 3rd-grade test tells us a lot

Posted3/8/2015 1:00 AM

I correctly answered 21 of 22 questions.

On a test for third-graders.


However, I think I made up for it on the essay portion, which wasn't graded in the online practice test for the new standardized achievement exam with the easy-to-remember name of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, which replaces the ISAT and PSAE tests.

I volunteered several people in our Lisle newsroom to take the test with me because I didn't want to wear the only dunce cap, and it would make a cool video, which we ran with our extensive coverage this past week of the new test. Interestingly -- and these are people who work with computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones for a living -- all were put off by trying to take the test on the computer.

One said, "I really did not like reading book excerpts on the screen. I would prefer to have it in front of me on paper so I could see the whole excerpt, instead of having to scroll, and could mark it up with a pencil as needed."

Said another, "I did not like constantly scrolling for the reading portions because I just could not keep track of where I wanted to be in the story and it took more time than if it was on paper."

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An old joke says journalists are people who weren't good at math. Or science. Or grasping a foreign language. So consider this: Three eighth-grade English/Language Arts teachers at a suburban middle school took the eighth-grade ELA test. One got 24 of 30 correct, but had to skip parts because of computer navigation difficulties. Two gave up in frustration.

Change, as they say, is difficult, but this new test seems to be causing extraordinary added angst. As staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy reported Wednesday, there are widespread concerns the test is: 1. too hard; 2. too subjective; 3. too long 4. being rolled out too hastily; 5. being used prematurely as a benchmark -- in other words, these results count. One fear among some educators is kids will give up on the test in the early going and not apply themselves. The new test consumes double the time -- between 10 and 12 hours spread among several days, depending on grade level -- and that's not counting prep time and a follow-up test that comes later in the school year.

On the other hand ...

Haven't we asked for this? The American education system has been criticized for years for allowing student performance to lag behind that of Europe, Japan and other industrialized nations. And haven't we been asking schools to provide skills demanded by employers -- greater critical thinking ability, stronger written and verbal communication, higher-level math and science knowledge?

The PARCC test is an outgrowth of all that, conceived at the federal level as part of the more rigorous Common Core standards, to which 40 states, including Illinois, ascribe. The new test debuts in 11 states and District of Columbia. In Illinois alone, 1 million students are taking the test this week and beyond.

Let's hope our students and educators rise to the obvious challenge wrought by this overhauling of achievement testing -- because this seems to be a classic case of a great idea possibly fraught with poor implementation.


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