Standardized assessment in New Jersey is about to enter the next phase of its evolution, as Governor Phil Murphy has signaled a wind down of PARCC. What will become of high-stakes testing, and will this disrupt schools' ongoing efforts to implement high-quality assessments of their own?
We surveyed 216 administrators and educators on “Preparing for a Post-PARCC New Jersey”, and the resulting data unearthed a compelling conundrum.
Opinions Split over PARCC's Fate
40% of respondents were happy with the idea of PARCC being decommissioned. However, a majority of respondents expressed concern about throwing out the baby with the bathwater, especially after the massive effort to build capacity for digital assessment:
“We have increased tech capacity every year and this coming year we would be in perfect shape… I don’t know how you get around high stakes testing. I just think we need to supplement it.” Anonymous Administrator
Of the educators who were not ready to move on from PARCC:
- 26% felt the content was an improvement over NJASK/HSPA, but were not a fan of the high-stakes nature of the testing
- 22% were just hitting their stride, and expressed concern with yet another transition
- 3% were unhappy with sunsetting PARCC, as it had become a meaningful part of the instructional process.
The transition cost, and the fear of getting lower quality tests, seemed to be on many of the respondent's minds.
"I'm a fan of the rigor utilized in PARCC as it reflects all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. I would hate to see something replace the assessment that is not as rigorous."
Before thinking about what's to come, it's worth delving into the main challenges we are facing right now.
Biggest Struggles of the PARCC Era
We asked respondents “What are your biggest assessment challenges (including PARCC and other assessment tools employed at your school)?" Respondents identified as many issues as they wanted.
The top three selections point to major frustration with the amount of time required managing the process or wrestling with data.
Whether it’s a feeling of losing too much instructional time, or the reaction to never actually feeling finished with the data; it's clear that respondents want to invest their time differently.
“There’s simply not enough time to unpack the data results and provide quality, one-on-one instruction for students. It also makes it challenging to address deficiencies within the scope and sequence of the curriculum.” Anonymous Administrator
Despite the high demand on time, many respondents still had ambitious assessment endeavors in mind for next year.
Setting a New Course for Assessment
For the 2018-19 school year, 47% of respondents are gearing up to implement more common formative assessment. A growing body of research points to this practice as having a very significant impact on student learning and equity.
Also high on the list are improving assessment literacy/rigor and getting better, faster data. All three of these top goals can be supported by high-quality digital assessment platforms; but have most schools found a software that works?
Getting More Out of Testing Technology
Taking advantage of the devices and bandwidth acquired for PARCC, 63% of schools have invested in digital assessment platforms for various purposes (interims, common formative, diagnostic, adaptive, benchmark, etc.)
However, schools using these digital platforms are not necessarily having an optimal experience. Respondents shed light on the top three improvements they wanted to see from their providers:
1. Easier Authoring of Tech-Enhanced Questions
If it’s difficult to develop interactive questions, buy-in and implementation will be a challenge. Newer platforms are making technology-enhanced authoring easier and auto-grading more effective. This lends itself to better adoption and higher quality data.
2. Quality of Test Banks
Relying on third-party test banks can be harrowing. How can you validate the quality of test construction, and ensure fair, well-written distractors? Are tests and items field-tested? Aligned to your curriculum? Vetted by psychometricians? Strongly aligned to NJSLS?
It's an ambitious wishlist, but one that may be supported by new partnerships in the ed-tech space. For example, NJ provider OnCourse Systems for Education announced integration with CenterPoint Education Solutions in March 2018, which infuses expertly-designed interim assessments into the OnCourse Assessment online testing platform.
3. Intuitiveness & Timeliness of Data
An anonymous teacher tells us in just a few words why "data-driven instruction" has fallen flat in many school districts.
“It’s just annoying and time-consuming. It’s not difficult to put the data in, but... that’s an hour of time that I need to take these scores and put them over here. I could be using that time to plan a lesson.”
“Teachers Know Best, Making Data Work” - http://www.teachersknowbest.org/reports
Although Governor Murphy hasn't said much about what may replace PARCC, he has indicated the importance of "shorter feedback loops". PARCC data often arrives too late to make much of an instructional difference, and paper-based assessment requires too much manual aggregation.
For this reason, modern testing platforms should be automatically translating student work on formative and interim assessments into approachable analytics. Ideally, this provides instant insights to educators to help them differentiate instruction in a meaningful way.
Are you still struggling to get great data from assessments? OnCourse Systems for Education has released OnCourse Assessment to help modernize the assessment process:
Have any questions about digital assessment in OnCourse? Comment below and we'd be happy to discuss!