In school districts across Lorain County and elsewhere in Ohio this week, students will take a new standardized test — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC — that will give educators a clearer idea of how ready students are for exams based on the new Common Core standards.
Ohio adopted the new, more rigorous standards for core subjects some time ago, but has yet to assess students based on the new curriculum. That will change next year when Ohio’s Next Generation Assessments, computer-based state tests in math, English language arts, science and social studies are rolled out to students.
The plan is to move away from traditional paper and pencil tests and assess students with the same technology they are growing familiar with.
“Ohio is giving students, teachers and schools the opportunity to see how a computer-based test will work,” said a Ohio Department of Education spokesperson. “This will help the test designers make sure systems work and the test items are accurate questions about the subject.”
There is much debate over the new Common Core techniques for teaching math concepts, the push for more critical thinking and emphasize on non-fiction pieces. These new tests will be the first time educators see if the changes are working.
“Without seeing the tests, we can’t know for sure if our curriculum matches the test content,” said Amy Keir, an English-language arts content specialist with Elyria Schools. “Yes, we know they are Common Core based, but what does that mean?”
The Ohio Department of Education has said field testing — school districts volunteering to administer the test to randomly selected students — is a necessary part of the Next Generation Assessment rollout. The findings will be used to adjust the system before its launch in spring 2015.
The Ohio Department of Education won’t have scores at the end of the field tests, and districts will not be penalized or awarded for participating.
But doing so gleans its own rewards, said Ann Schloss, Elyria director of academic services.
“It gets the kids used to what is coming next year, but it also lets teachers know how to shape curriculum in the classroom,” she said. “We volunteered for field testing because we want a voice in what our students will be asked to do. We want to be a part of the ones offering the feedback.”
Ramona Mendak, an Elyria content coordinator, said about 50 students in grades three through eight from each building will take the assessment in coming days. The students were chosen at random.
“We are going to do this in a traditional test setting so it mirrors next years as closely as possible,” she said.
The field tests also will analyze the technical capacity of districts. Schloss said Elyria is tech-rich with a desktop computer for every four students, not including laptops and tablets.
Statewide, the assessments will be given to more than 120,000 students in more than 2,000 schools.