How to organize a “PARCC and Your Child” event

CPS has several models for public forums/discussions on testing. In this version, the entire group tries some questions together. In another, individuals take portions of the PARCC test and then discuss it.

In brief:

You need:

  • A place to hold the event.
  • A computer and computer projector (which we can help you find). A projection screen is optional.
  • Sponsors.
  • Publicity.

Before the event:

  • Find the PARCC practice tests (Google PARCC practice tests) and try the first question of each one. You may find your usual browser doesn’t work and you have to use a different one.
  • Make sure your computer can connect to the Internet in the room where the meeting will be held.
  • Recruit a moderator.

At the event:

  • Sign people in and give them name tags.
  • Give them CPS PARCC fact sheets.
  • Find out who’s in the room and why they came.
  • Project a few PARCC and MCAS questions at the grade levels and subjects (math or English) the people at the meeting choose.
  • After 30 to 45 minutes, stop and ask people what they think of the test.
  • Give everyone a chance to talk.
  • Schedule 45 minutes for discussion and 10 to 15 minutes on next steps.
  • Recruit those who want to join our effort to roll back testing.

The details:

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education wants to switch from MCAS to PARCC statewide in the spring of 2016. The original plan was to switch in 2015, but because of widespread resistance, the state gave local school committees the option of giving PARCC or MCAS, just for 2015. They plan to make a final decision on MCAS vs PARCC in the fall of 2015.

If your district opted for PARCC, many parents will want to see what their children will face next spring. Even if your district is taking MCAS in 2015, parents may want to know what the state is proposing for 2016.

You will need:

  • A place to hold the event where you can connect to the Internet.
  • A computer and computer projector. (Citizens for Public Schools can help you find a projector. Or you may be able to use one that’s already at the meeting location.) A projection screen is optional.
  • As many co-sponsors as you can find.
  • A publicity plan.

PARCC has practice tests online, which you can find linked to http://www.parcconline.org/practice-tests. (Or Google “PARCC practice tests.”) Try questions at each grade level and both math and English so you’ll be familiar with whatever levels and subjects the people at your meeting choose.

Find one or more sponsoring groups. The PARCC events we have held so far were each sponsored by the local teachers union, one or more parent organizations, and/or the School Department. Your School Committee may agree to co-sponsor.

If the School Committee or School Department does not co-sponsor and you want to use a school, you may need to pay custodial fees. But there may be another place with Internet access that will let you hold a community meeting, perhaps a library or an adult education program.

Decide on a date and time. We have held sessions on Saturday mornings, but other times may be just as good.

Publicize the event through your local newspaper, but also use community blogs, parent email groups, Facebook pages, and other ways to invite people. Personal communications are more effective than a notice in the paper. Try to get both parents and teachers. Invite parents to bring their children with them to see the practice questions. Try to get older students to come, too.

Before the event:

Try out your computer and projector in the room where you plan to hold the meeting. If you don’t have a projection screen, find a white or light-colored wall to project onto. Project at least one PARCC practice question to be sure it will be legible.

 

At the event, you will need:

  • A sign-in sheet. (Get emails if possible.)
  • Name tags.
  • Drinks and snacks if possible (and permitted in the room you are using).
  • Your computer and computer projector.
  • Someone who can moderate the discussion after the test.

As people arrive, greet them, sign them in, give them name tags and CPS PARCC fact sheets.

When you are ready to start, begin by finding out who’s in the room: How many are parents? Teachers? Students? Ask people how they heard of the meeting and why they came.

On your computer, to the PARCC home screen [PARCConline.org].

Explain that:

PARCC is a group of states that got together to sponsor a new set of tests geared to the new Common Core standards. Federal Department of Education officials told states that joining PARCC would help them get big Race To The Top grants.

Some states are adopting PARCC but others have pulled out. In Massachusetts, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to decide next fall whether to scrap the MCAS exam (except in science) and switch to PARCC. (High school seniors would continue taking the MCAS as a graduation requirement for a few more years.)

For the tests that will be given next spring (2015), the state allowed each school committee to pick PARCC or MCAS. Tell the meeting which test your district will take.

Answer questions, but keep this part of the meeting short – not more than 15 minutes – because it’s important for the meeting to work on the practice tests. That will engage people more than extra information about PARCC.

Google “PARCC practice tests” or click on the practice tests link on the PARCC home page.

Ask the people at the meeting which subject and level they want to start with. You may not get to try out more than a few PARCC questions because many of the questions have several parts. Keep going for 10 or 15 minutes.

Switch to the MCAS released items site (Google “MCAS test questions” to find it) and try one or two from the same level and subject.

Repeat with questions from other practice tests and the MCAS equivalents, as long as people continue to be interested, but leave an hour for discussion afterwards.

Ask your moderator to take over and ask people what they thought of the tests. They will probably have a lot to say.

The main job of the moderator is to make sure everyone has a chance to talk. Ask people to introduce themselves the first time they talk.

In our experience, the conversation quickly broadens from the specifics of the PARCC test to the experience of their children or their class with the standardized tests already in use in the schools. Those tests include MCAS and the many preparatory tests that districts use to try to raise MCAS scores.

Personal stories about testing experiences have the most impact, so the moderator should encourage people to speak from their own experience.

The entire event, including working on the practice questions, should probably take 90 minutes to two hours.

Ten or 15 minutes from the end, the moderator can ask people to talk about what steps they would like to take next – either about PARCC or about other tests that have come up in the discussion. Testing pressure comes from the state and federal governments but local districts usually add their own tests. People at your event may want to ask their School Committees to change local policies.

Let people know that we are launching a campaign to roll back high-stakes testing and develop better ways to assess students – ways that are more valid and that don’t hurt students.

Get the names and contact information of anybody who wants to help. You may find you have the nucleus of a local committee on testing.

That committee can start right away working to change local policies. It can also help us develop specific state-wide proposals to turn into draft legislation, and organize support for that legislation when the new legislature takes office.