Teardown of PARCC via TestNav

I recently had an opportunity to watch a class of 4th graders attempt to take a PARCC test via the TestNav website. I was disappointed by the interface, let alone how the content failed to keep some students on task. Later I googled a sample test to try it out for myself, and was absolutely HORRIFIED at what I was witnessing. Following is a page-by-page report of the TestNav PARCC test, specifically 4th grade ELA (English Language Arts).

tl;dr – TestNav sucks

Starting point: http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/english/

The very fact that Pearson is behind this raises serious red flags for me. My professional experience with Pearson is that they are in it solely to make money. They don’t give a crap about content and/or actual assessments. Again, this is my own take, others may differ.

pearson_testnav_page1

Page (or screen) 1. The very first sentence does a great job at setting the scene and describing the overall objective of this test. So I read the story and moved on to the question. Or thought I had read the story. Paragraph 18? I only see three paragraphs. Oh, there are 22 “paragraphs” altogether, wow! A bit more reading to do. This is problem #1. How is a child supposed to know there is more to read “below the fold”? There are no instructions to scroll down, and the interface blankly assumes that the user inherently knows how to interpret the scrollbar near the text. Minus one point for Pearson. Problem number two; I spent about 5 minutes or so reading through this story, and this first page is asking two questions about a single word in the entire thing. So now my mind is all caught up about the definition of a single word, and the rest of the story gets flushed out of my short term memory.

Final problem; so I answer two questions. What next. Ahh, yes, the right arrow button, like a web browser. Good thing there are instructions for that (/sarcasm).

 

Read on to see the other 22 pages and my conclusion…

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More about Common Core

I recently had a good talk about Common Core with Trevor Nadrozny, the Director of Curriculum with Unit 4. I initiated the conversation by leaving a couple messages with questions about how and what data on my child is being collected. We found a time to chat on the phone, and here is what I learned.

First, Common Core is a very broad, very vague set of guidelines. If I may make a gross analogy, it is like saying you have to weigh 100 pounds in 6 months. “Pounds” and “months” have standard definitions so we can all measure them the same way, but the path to get to “100 pounds” in “6 months” is totally ambiguous. Aside from the fact that everyone starts at a different place, there are different ways to get there. Maybe one person will use the path of “liposuction”, maybe another will use the “Atkins Diet”, another may use a “ketogenic diet”. Maybe one person will take the journey of “working out for 3 hours a day”. Common Core doesn’t really care how you get there, as long as you get there. The hidden problem with this approach is that it makes it hard to reward those that tried really hard and just didn’t meet the goal – maybe they lost 29 pounds, but just couldn’t get the last one off. For the record, I am not a big fan of the Body Mass Index (BMI) – maybe this is what taints my own view of Common Core – everyone is different, so we cannot all possibly fit into the same pigeon hole. But Common Core, like BMI, allows us to all talk with the same measurements, and there is some utility in that alone.

To implement the goals of Common Core, Unit 4 is piloting 3 separate programs at the elementary schools:

  • Wonders – Carrie Busey, Stratton, Bottenfield
  • Journeys – Robeson, Westview
  • Reading Street – Dr. Howard, Kenwood

I did some digging; while I could not find any relevant information on the Unit 4 website (I have a note into Stephanie Stuart and Trevor about that), I did find some vendor information:

Trevor mentioned that he did not have enough budget dollars to pilot these programs at every grade level, so I am not certain exactly which grades at the aforementioned schools are actually going through this exercise.

In an earlier thread, Karen talked about the critical need for grammar. When I mentioned this to Trevor, he said grammar is actually actively taught right now. He used a Kindergarten class teaching Wonders as an example, where students were learning about nouns and pronouns. So obviously, it seems that grammar is indeed being taught at least in one situation – I am not familiar enough with each of the three pilots to know what importance or priority grammar takes, but a brief glance through the vendor pages (links above) indicate that each pilot program at least touches on grammar.

Trevor also explain to me how there are different levels of collecting metrics. On the one hand, the district uses generic literacy screeners by way of aimsweb. Trevor compared this to taking your pulse and blood pressure when you visit the doctor’s office – it doesn’t really tell you about any root issues, but it is a way of tracking general health. He also told me about “DRA”, which has been used in previous years; I didn’t catch what the acronym meant, but it was something about “diagnostic assessments”. Doing a search on the Unit 4 website, I see that DRAs have been talked about several times in board meetings – other than that, I am not finding much information (will keep looking & asking, and will update here when I find more). Trevor compares DRAs to being like a comprehensive blood test – much more thorough than aimsweb. Apparently, DRAs are used on an “as needed” basis.

Additionally, I learned that Wonders has assessments built in. It is foremost a reading curriculum aligned to Common Core, but assessments are kind of like a “bonus feature”. I did not ask, but I would assume that Journeys and Reading Street also have built in assessments.

A relatively new thing is something called “progress monitoring”, which is essentially a screener (taking pulse and blood pressure) on a weekly basis. I did not ask how this was implement or for how many students.

More to follow. My goal is to learn more about Common Core and what it means for our school district. I am hunting for facts. *grin* Call me narrow-minded, but I am focusing on facts that are relevant to Unit 4 and the Champaign community – broad, overarching details about the pros and cons of Common Core are less interesting to me at the moment.

To me, there is still a big issue revolving around how to prepare and move students from grade to grade. I have learned, via Voices for Illinois Children’s “Great at 8” initiative, the most critical years for building an educational scaffolding from which to hang the rest of ones educational progress occurs before a child reaches 8 years of age. The Champaign Federation of Teachers (aka, teacher’s union) recently promoted a video highlighting the “Word Gap” between the rich and the poor, and how some privileged kids have a 30 million word advantage over unprivileged kids by the time they enter kindergarten. That bothers me. I think our schools have a huge challenge to tackle that gap – I don’t know how we are going to do it.