PARCC testing season is here, and as I oversee administering the tests for the Fair Haven School District in Fair Haven, New Jersey, I’ve taken great care in preparing our staff and students for the exams.Developed by Pearson, the PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is an online test given twice a year (in March and May) to students in third through eleventh grade, meant to show student progress according to the Common Core State Standards. Here are some tips from the frontlines that you can use to better prepare your district for PARCC:
1. Familiarize yourself, then students, with PARCC. There is a lot of misinformation out there about PARCC. To best prepare your kids, it is important that you know the facts and logistics of the test. Things like session schedules, unit times, and how to use accommodations are important for you to understand so you can properly inform students. The PARCC manuals are available for anyone to read here and you can find more information about PARCC on the Pearson website here.
2. Take the Practice Tests. The first time students see PARCC shouldn’t be the first time they take PARCC. The most important thing you can do to prepare your students is give them the practice PARCC tests, which can be found here. Let them play around in the testing environment until they feel confident navigating the test, experiencing PARCCs often maligned directions, and answering the unique question types. Some questions on the PARCC are above or below grade level, so don’t be afraid to give a higher or lower grade practice test to students as well. If you have students with accommodations like answer masking or text-to-speech, make sure you show students how they work. You can find the accommodations tutorials here.
3. Know Your Resources. There are a growing number of websites out there whose goal is to make it easier for teachers to create PARCC-like assessments. Often billed as “Next Generation Assessments,” sites like Edulastic and ReadWorks (with its outstanding paired texts feature) can help lighten your load when it comes to getting students ready for testing.
4. Simulate PARCCs Testing Environment with Google Apps For Education. If you can’t find resources you like, consider making your own! You can make a surprisingly effective PARCC-like assessment using Google Sites, Forms, and YouTube. You can check out a piece I wrote on the topic and in-depth examples here. Even if you don’t go to the lengths I did, I would highly suggest you at least make use of Google Form’s Checkbox Question feature. A major difference between PARCC and the older forms of standardized tests is that some questions ask students to choose the best answer, not the right answer. Sometimes these types of questions will even have students pick more than one best answer. Students will know these types of questions by the ability to place checks, instead of dots, next to their answer. Many of my kids left the practice PARCC saying, “For some of the questions, the answers were all kind of right.”
5. Use Google Drawings to Simulate PARCC Drag and Drop Questions. The drag and drop nature of many PARCC questions has been hard to emulate effectively. I’ve had the most success using Google Drawings. Pushing one drawing out a day to kids via an LMS like Google Classroom or Schoology has been an effective form of practice. You can see an example I made here. Don’t forget to have students make a copy to interact with the Drawing.
6. Work Smart, Not Hard. If you need to communicate with Pearson, try the PARCC live chat for troubleshooting, which I have found works well even when PARCC phone lines were down or busy. The live feature feature can be found on Access Next’s main page (after you sign in), toward the bottom, right of the page. I like chat best, because I don’t have to be tied to a phone while I wait for them to answer.
It is important that we take PARCC preparation seriously: not to teach to the test, but to make sure that staff and students know what to expect. By preparing staff and students on what to expect from PARCC, we’ve had a smooth rollout at the Fair Haven School District, and early student polling is showing that students’ spirits are high and PARCC wasn’t that bad.