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Topic: Shaky Start at Md. High School for Common-Core Exams
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,397
Registered: 12/3/04
Shaky Start at Md. High School for Common-Core Exams
Posted: Apr 3, 2014 6:33 PM
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From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Thursday, April 3, 2014.
Field-Testing of Common-Core Exams Gets Off to Shaky Start at Md. High School

By Liana Heitin

Rockville, Md.

At Thomas S. Wootton High School, teachers and administrators seem to
be in agreement that field-testing for the common-core assessments is
off to a bumpy start. [See

I spent the morning of April 2 in a computer lab at the school with
9th graders who were randomly assigned to take the Partnership for
Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, tests in
English/language arts. This was the group's second attempt at
completing the computer-based tests, which are aligned to the Common
Core State Standards. [See http://www.parcconline.org/ ]

Last week, students at the school encountered technical
difficulties-software systems that "weren't jiving," said Joseph Du
Boyce, an assistant principal at Wootton High School-and eventually
were sent back to their regular classrooms without taking the exam.

The school was originally slotted to administer the tests over five
days, but because the Montgomery County, Md., district has had 10
snow days this academic year, school officials chose to condense the
testing window. About 90 students will take the field tests over two
nearly-full school days, this week and in May.

Both PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have been
field-testing their assessments this spring. By early June, when the
process is complete, more than 4 million students in 36 states and
the District of Columbia will have taken near-final versions of the
tests in mathematics and English/language arts. As my colleague
Catherine Gewertz explained in a recent Education Week story, this
spring's field-testing is a critical part of the assessments' design
process, aimed at figuring out what works and what doesn't. [See

On the day I visited Wootton High, Mr. Du Boyce began by walking
students through a Java update intended to help prevent software
problems. He repeatedly urged the students to "be patient"-though his
own actions revealed some edginess. He circled the lab with purpose
and breezed through the instructions, which he later told me were
"very unclear" and "poorly written."

"Let's pray this works," he said to students as they clicked the
box on their computer screens.

The students, for their part, were both quiet and relaxed. Wootton,
ranked among the state's top-five high schools by U.S. News and World
Report, is known for churning out high Advanced Placement scores and
graduates who end up at top-tier universities. Less than 5 percent of
the 2,300 students there receive subsidized meals (a common indicator
of poverty). Mr. Du Boyce told me the students were well aware that
the field tests did not carry high stakes-in fact, he'd told them not
to worry about their performance to relieve the anxiety that
accompanies most testing days at the school. [See
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/maryland ]

As the students began the PARCC test, Mr. Du Boyce was rushed out of
the room to address a technical problem in another computer lab. A
few minutes later, the two remaining proctors realized that none of
the students had headphones, which were supposed to have been
distributed before the test began. A couple of students raised their
hands when they reached items that required them to listen to a
reading-though some did not and plowed on. About 10 minutes after
testing had begun, a staff member entered with the headphones PARCC
had provided. The proctors couldn't help but laugh as they picked
apart the mess of tangled cords.

'We've Been Learning'

David Connerty-Martin, a spokesman for PARCC, said the point of the
field-testing is to discover problems.

"This is what's supposed to happen. This is so when we do the
operational test next year in the spring of 2015 that we don't have
these kinds of issues," he said. "If the instructions need to be
rewritten in part, we'll do that. If there are pieces of software
that need to be disabled in order for the test to work, we'll do
that. And we've been learning those types of things."

Of the 200,000 students who've completed PARCC tests so far as part
of the trial run, the "vast majority" have done so without incident,
he said. There have been technical glitches here and there, he
said-some at the local level and some with the platform-but "the good
news is there are no systemic issues. There have been no major
outages, there's no device that isn't working. This is part of the

For those I spoke with at Wootton High, the most frustrating part of
the field-testing experience has been the amount of time it's taken
away from classroom instruction.

"These kids are going to be double-tested," said Jennifer Martin, an
English teacher there whose students were pulled out for the PARCC
field-testing, referring to the fact that students still must take
Maryland's high school exams this year.

"Couldn't you get volunteers to do this [field-testing] in the
summer? We're robbing kids of several days so that Pearson [the
company that developed the delivery platform for PARCC] can benefit."
Some parents, she said, have chosen to opt their children out of the
tests so they would not miss additional instructional time. (Ms.
Martin has previously written blog posts for Education Week Teacher -

She recounted that one of her students welled up with tears upon
learning that she'd been selected for PARCC testing, and that it
would coincide with an exam-review day for one of her classes. The
administrators ended up rearranging the field-testing schedule.

"I think that our school has handled it as well as it could be
handled," said Ms. Martin.
JeanMarie Joseph, a special education teacher at the school who has
taught for 28 years, said she's seen the evolution of states tests
and understands there are often "rough spots to iron out" with new
assessments. However, having experienced the computer difficulties
while administering the test to a student with special needs, she
said, with PARCC, "I've been underwhelmed so far."

The Big Picture

Mr. Connerty-Martin emphasized the need to think broadly about field-testing.

"This is an unprecedented, large-scale, multi-state collaboration,"
he said. "In order to make sure the test is fair and accessible and
of the quality that we all intend it to be, you need to go through
the process of testing the test."

In fact, some schools have requested to get involved, he said, to
have more time to get to know the tests before they count.

"This is an opportunity for students and teachers to play a very
active role in shaping the assessment that they will have to take for
real next year," he said.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Chris Thompson, athletic director and history
teacher, holds up a tangled nest of headsets meant for 9th
graders taking the PARCC field tests at Thomas S. Wootton High School
in Rockville, Md., Wednesday, April 2. Photo by Swikar
Patel/Education Week

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