In Chicago recently, reactions against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and standardized tests have ranged from murmurs to loud protests. Opponents of the PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment have said that it is unproven and would add yet another standardized test to an already full year. They are not alone in voicing their 9th inning change in plans; the results of the mid-term elections could well indicate a change in policy, which would be a shame for our students.
The naysayers are asking the wrong questions. I work with urban students, mostly of color, in a Chicago Public School for temporarily incarcerated youth. For me, the guiding question is always this: what do our students need? And, therefore, how can teachers, administrators, and district leaders meet those needs? The PARCC consortium has enlisted educational leaders and practitioners to create a next-generation computerized test that is based on the CCSS and measures how students perform against the standards. While CCSS sets the foundation for understanding, PARCC attempts to give teachers like me a snapshot of my students' educational needs.
The advantage to having an assessment that truly measures how students perform is that its data allows teachers, schools, districts and states to see where students are academically and target curriculum to ready students for college and careers. The PARCC consortium and its partners have worked hard to create a test that gives educational stakeholders the data on what students know so that we can improve our practice and help our students improve.
For my students, this data means having information about certain trends demonstrated in PARCC scores that lets me know how to best adjust my instructional cycles to target the CCSS skills that need the most work. I could find out what reading skills need to be emphasized or any other patterns based on data from the previous year. In sports, a coach needs to understand past games and seasons to plan for ways to help improve individual and team performance. As a teacher, I need to look at past assessments that show where students need to improve to help them get to where they need to be. On a macro-level, important data emerges to help target resources and put them where they are needed most in order for students to learn more successfully.
Both CCSS and PARCC are rigorous and challenging and are good tools to help our students grow. We should use them as capacity-building tools to improve the teaching and learning experience for students, teachers, schools, and districts. To throw them out will not serve our students who need our assistance now in order to positively impact their future.
There are challenges along the way, such as the length of the test and the technological difficulties of computer testing for young students. But understanding what students need and how to get there is worth the effort. We need an educational system that has high standards (like CCSS), tests with multiple measures of data to understand what students need (like PARCC), and a strong network of teachers, leaders and districts that can create learning paths that help all of our students become college and career ready. This is my goal as an educator and I am confident that it is the goal of all educators in Chicago and beyond.
Micah J. Miner is a CPS teacher and department chair at an alternative Chicago Public School. He is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow, a doctoral student in Curriculum, Advocacy and Policy at National-Louis University, and a CTU member.