CEA cautions against relying on PARCC scores with known reliability issues

Kerrie Dallman

The Colorado Education Association says lower test scores from the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments, released Sep. 12, confirm the state’s overall assessment system has not gained the trust of educators, parents and students. Association members deem the results unreliable for many reasons, warning Coloradans to avoid using PARCC data to make sweeping generalizations about whether a district, school or teacher is failing.

“Our educators and students have gone through multiple years of seeing standards change, accountability measures change, educator evaluations change, and learning conditions change with unfunded mandates and unpredictable resources. These test scores reflect that turmoil,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman, a high school social studies teacher. “Stability is sorely needed in our public education system at this moment to give our students and educators the time and tools they need to successfully adapt to all these changes.”

Dallman agrees the assessment system has improved by aligning new tests to the Colorado Academic Standards. However, mass student protests and high opt-out percentages against the PARCC tests in many communities are presenting an incomplete test score picture.

“The large numbers of students not taking the tests undoubtedly distort the overall results,” said Dallman. “We need to address the general lack of public confidence in these tests and assure parents that Colorado is giving students the right amount of standardized tests with clear purpose before we can derive data from the system that is trustworthy.”

This first-ever statewide computerized test was marred by widespread technological malfunctions, leaving teachers and students frustrated and further casting the PARCC results with suspicion. Dallman raised other concerns she’s heard from educators giving the PARCC tests in Colorado schools. “Many teachers question whether or not a computerized test accurately measures the knowledge of students with less computing experience and weaker keyboarding skills. Our educators also say PARCC questions are wrought with issues of age and developmental appropriateness, and poorly measure what is learned in the classroom by English language learners and students with special needs.”

PARCC tests further lack meaning for educators, parents and students because results come out the following school year and cannot improve current classroom instruction. And the high price tag of standardized testing stresses school districts still being short-changed critical dollars by the “negative factor” in Colorado’s school funding formula.

Dallman says teachers are legitimately worried by a new state budget plan that further cuts school funding, placing additional pressures on the assessment system. However, she is hopeful progress from the last legislative session will continue to define testing’s proper role in Colorado schools. “After years of increasing education mandates, our legislators listened to the public this year and dialed back some of the testing overload, giving many students more time to learn and their educators more time to teach this school year. CEA members want to see a continuing trend toward common-sense testing levels.”

Dallman realizes the urge to compare Colorado test scores with other states and even other countries is strong, but she says great test results can be the result of a conscious decision to not over-test children.

“Our students take well over 100 standardized tests during their school career, and that takes a toll on a student’s desire to stay engaged in school and develop a love of learning. High-functioning school systems focus their precious time and resources toward delivering quality instruction and improving the teaching profession, and we need to do the same in Colorado,” Dallman concluded.