How to organize a “Take the PARCC Test” event

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

In brief:

You need:

  • A place to hold the event.
  • Sponsors.
  • Publicity.

Before the event:

  • Try out the computers.
  • Recruit a moderator.

At the event:

  • Sign people in and give them name tags.
  • Give them CPS PARCC fact sheets.
  • Invite them to try one or more PARCC practice tests (Google “PARCC practice tests” to find them).
  • After an hour, stop and ask them 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.

Getting people to try out the PARCC test is a good way to start a conversation about the impact of standardized testing mandates.

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 be facing next spring. Even if your district is taking MCAS in 2015, parents may still want to know what the state is proposing for 2016.

The details:

You will need:

  • A place to hold the event, which can be a computer lab, or, if that’s not available, a meeting room with enough wireless bandwidth to allow many laptops to access the Internet.
  • 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 a few questions.

Find one or more sponsoring groups. The events 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 computer lab, you may need to pay custodial fees. But there may be another place with a bank of computers or good wifi service, 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. Teachers know more about the real impact of high-stakes testing. Parents are less likely to be afraid to speak out, and they represent the interest of the people education is all about: students. Invite parents to bring their children to take the practice test with them.

Try to get older students to come, too.

Before the event:

If you are using computers at the location, try them out on the test site. We have had problems when computers did not have the latest Java application and could not run the test program. Also, not all browsers will work.

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).
  • Someone who can moderate the discussion after the test.

Get there early and start all the computers. Point their browsers to the practice test url.

As people arrive, greet them, sign them in, give them name tags and CPS PARCC fact sheets, and get them started right away trying out the test. The parents of an elementary school student may want to try a test like the one their child will take. Or, if they dare, they can try a high school test.

If people want to compare these questions with MCAS, you can easily find comparable MCAS questions by Googling “MCAS test questions.”

In the sessions we have held so far, we let this part of the program run for an hour. You can cut it a little shorter, but it should be a substantial amount of time, not just a few minutes.

At the end of that time, have your moderator invite people to talk about the test. They will have plenty to say.

The opening question can be as simple as, “What did you think?” If you start that way, you probably should ask people to introduce themselves the first time they talk. Or, you can have everybody quickly introduce themselves before your start the discussion, but make it quick: Don’t take 20 minutes for monologs.

The main job of the moderator is to make sure everyone has a chance to talk.

In our experience, the conversation quickly broadens from the specifics of the PARCC test people have just taken to the experience of their children or their class with the standardized tests already in use in the schools, 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.

We have had the discussion last an hour, so that the complete event takes 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 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 developing 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.