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How Does Vox Figure PARCC Tests Are 'Working'?

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On April 11, 2014, vox.com, a supposedly "data-driven news site" started this month by Ezra Klein, posted this propagandistic wonder regarding Partnership for Assessment for College and Careers (PARCC) field testing.

The piece is entitled, "Common Core Tests Are in Classrooms -- And They're Actually Working."

That depends upon what one considers "working" to be.

If "working" is the cutting of non-tested (and therefore, less valued) school courses, programs and staff in order to feed the testing monster, then yes, the "tests are working." I teach high school English. For the past three years, at the end of the year, I have heard my administration say, "We're going to lose another teacher," meaning another full-time English position was to be cut. I heard that statement again several weeks ago when an administrator explained to me why my Teaching Academy course -- a statewide program created over a decade ago to spark interest among high school students in teaching as a career -- would be cut next year.

The day that I received the news, I saw shipments of new computers arriving in our library. It turns out that our district was required to purchase these computers from our state in an arrangement out state board of education made with some fortunate technology company.

Each computer cost the district $1100. Our school alone has seven computer labs. Each lab seats approximately 20 to 30 students.

Big money -- all spent on shiny new computers required for PARCC testing.

Three years ago, our school library that served 1,800 students lost two of its three librarians.

That library was closed for three days last week in order to accommodate standardized testing.

A school of 1800 students without library access for three days.

For a number of my students needing to conduct research online, I "became" the library and used my classroom computer to assist flustered students without library access with their research.

A teacher's ability to accommodate students in the moment in an effort to overcome a lack of resources appears on no teacher evaluation rubric that I know. Yet I find myself working to "do more with less" as so-called education reform demands ever more of classroom teachers.

PARCC is a major part of the school system money bleed.

However, according to vox.com, those PARCC tests are "working."

There is another component of the money-bleed "working" that concerns the cost of the PARCC tests. Last I priced them, each was $29.50 per student. No new price has been calculated given that some states have dropped PARCC. The price cited above had PARCC membership at 20 states. As of February 2014, PARCC was down to 17 states and DC.

In the April 2014 vox.com article, the number of PARCC states is noted as 14.

Fewer members equals a higher cost per test.

I learned the above economic truth in a traditional public school classroom absent any high-stakes standardized testing.

And now, watch this public school graduate do some more "real life" math:

$29.50 per test x 1800 students = $53,100. And that is for my school alone.

In 2014, Louisiana had over 727,000 students enrolled in public school.

The cost to administer PARCC to even half of those students (363,500) at $29.50 per test is $10.7 million dollars.

That sum could pay my current annual salary ($58,000) for almost 185 years.

In Maryland, the number of PARCC test takers is estimated to rise from 301,036 to 1,144,448.

1,144,448 x $29.50 = $33,761,216.

$33.76 million is enough to pay my annual salary to 582 teachers -- five times the faculty and staff at my high school of 1,800 students -- yet that is the estimated cost of PARCC exams for a single state.

We haven't even broached the cost of technology upgrades such as bandwidth requirements- which a single county in Maryland estimated to cost $3 million.

Another Maryland county estimated that the infrastructure upgrades would take over two years to accomplish.

All for an overpriced test.

Maryland's total estimated cost to prepare for PARCC by 2015 is $100 million.

Maryland's estimated cost in classroom instructional time lost to PARCC testing is also steep:

Total time (in minutes) devoted to [Maryland] state standardized testing will increase with the PARCC exams by:

- Grade 3: 73 percent (277 vs 480)
- Grade 4: 102 percent (276 vs 560)
- Grade 5: 90 percent (297 vs 565)
- Grade 6: 95 percent (289 vs 565)
- Grade 7: 84 percent (306 vs 565)
- Grade 8: 83 percent (308 vs 565)

So yes, PARCC is "working"- for mega-companies like Pearson and Educational Testing Service (ETS), the companies awarded PARCC contracts for item development.

For students and teachers who value actual time in the classroom teaching and learning- not so much.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), one of the two Common Core State Standards (CCSS) copyright owners, has a CEO whose background is not in classroom teaching but in assessment- and who has connections to Pearson. His name is Chris Minnich, and based on the vox.com article, Minnich believes that PARCC is "working."

According to Minnich:

Even in states where we're having some conversations about the standards, these tests are going on and teachers are teaching to these new standards.

Needless to say, Minnich's CCSSO is really pushing CCSS.

After all, PARCC "works" for Pearson.

Not only has Pearson paid financial support to CCSSO; Pearson is involved in all aspects of CCSS- including the development of student standardized assessments and assessments for teachers in training.

Which brings us to vox.com's happy point that PARCC will be used for teacher evaluations- but vox.com's list of potential problems with using student test scores to evaluate teachers is short and fails profoundly to note the utter failure of such "value-added modeling" (VAM) in supposedly determining teacher contribution to student "outcomes."

Why bother with the reality of a damaging VAM?

If the profit margin is obese, one can easily compose a CCSS- and PARCC -friendly piece of propaganda; post it with a picture of three children at computers, and declare that PARCC Is Working.

A note to vox.com's Ezra Klein:

Ezra.

Your piece on PARCC "working" is so bad that I wanted to scrape it off of the bottom of my shoe before stepping on my carpet.

In order to write a factual piece, one must use facts. I know, I know, you made Pearson, et al., happy with this drivel, but do try to offer your readers something that demonstrates that you aren't yet another who tells the corporate reform set to just leave the money on the nightstand.