PARCC Testing: Lessons Learned From the First Year

Thursday, May 7, 2015 -- Stephanie Abbott

Occasionally, I wonder where my former students are; social media makes it easy to stay in touch. I’ve learned that several have become teachers, which does make me proud.

All that being said, I was a bit surprised when I got an urgent text message from one former student. She needed help NOW. Responding immediately, I asked her to call me. The rest of this post will reveal a story of personal growth that has led to finding a new sense of purpose.

Meet Silvana. Most people would call middle school challenging, but it was even more so for her than the average student. Silvana’s family life was in turmoil, and schoolwork was difficult despite a lot of effort. She was angry and unfulfilled, but in the end, she decided to make school her focus. She responded well to an intervention plan for a learning issue. College brought leadership opportunities and lead to her signing on to Teach For America (TFA).

So what was the reason for her panicked text message? PARCC testing was about to begin, and she was told to prepare her students. To appreciate her panic, you’ll need to gain some insight into her Teach For America world.

Silvana has a degree in sociology and loves working with children, thanks to years as a camp counselor and nanny. Her first TFA posting was teaching summer school in rural Mississippi. College years spent at Temple University, in one of Philadelphia’s most economically depressed neighborhoods, didn’t prepare her for real poverty, nor did her move to Shreveport, LA, afterward. She couldn’t have comprehended the effects of severe poverty on education that she would see. Silvana said, “I definitely took my education for granted. I had all the resources I needed. My students come from multi-generational families where drugs, crime, and violence are daily reminders of how poor they are.”

Silvana knew from personal experience that school success gives a child a better sense of self. Pride and confidence grow after persevering through a challenge. She desperately wanted her students to feel good after taking the PARCC assessment.

When Silvana reached out to me, I made several recommendations. I encouraged her to start efforts with her students early, make use of formative assessments, closely monitor their progress, and utilize online tools for test preparation. With her first testing season complete, here are some lessons that both Silvana and I were able to take away:

Having resources doesn’t guarantee success. Many of Silvana’s students are not particularly tech savvy, as they have limited or no access to technology beyond school. Silvana began to use Study Island with her students as a user-friendly practice tool that also served to increase their familiarity with technology. The questions exposed the students to the same type of questions they would see on the PARCC test. SIlvana reported, “Practice certainly didn’t make things perfect, but practice did help to break content down into smaller, more manageable parts.”

Writing is insightful. Silvana used exit slips to evaluate her students’ prior knowledge and see how well they knew the grade-level material. By addressing knowledge gaps, practice on grade-level content was more meaningful.

Frequent progress monitoring is crucial. Silvana utilized Edmentum Sensei to monitor and analyze her students’ progress in Study Island.  With one quick look, Silvana could respond immediately to what the data was telling her. She also gained insight into her students’ work habits thanks to Sensei’s trend view, which showed her students’ time on task. Silvana raved, “I LOVE Sensei! Test-taking skills are just as important as knowing the material. If a student doesn’t read the entire question and the directions, there is a good chance of missing the question. Using Sensei, I could see who was rushing in practice and coach them to slow down.”

Start early. Silvana would love to start test-prep efforts during summer school, but she may have to wait until the school year begins, depending upon the student. Going forward, she plans to find gaps in prior knowledge using Test Builder for Study Island as a diagnostic assessment. Then, she will be able to focus on strengthening those targeted skills before teaching new content.

Introducing Silvana to the power of instructional technology resulted in a more confident group of 5th graders. Moreover, it empowered Silvana to see how she can inspire success through her test-prep efforts. Now, she even wants to take on a leadership role in her school by spearheading more effective test-preparation programs for the entire staff next year.

Interested in learning more about how Edmentum can partner with your school or district to provide effective preparation solutions for next-generation assessments? Check out this brochure on how to Track Standards Mastery with Edmentum Sensei for Study Island

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