PARCC Can Teach Us, If We Let It

This op-ed was originally published in the Albuquerque Journal.

Anxieties about the new PARCC standardized tests have been swirling for a long time now. But as a parent, I’m concerned about the level of testing anxiety we have created.

To be up front, I work in education policy. I know a little bit about the ins and out of the testing debate. But I still look at this issue first and foremost as a mom. My daughter will take the PARCC test for the first time next week. I don’t want her taking tests if they’re not a good use of her time, and I don’t want her to be anxious or scared.

Growing up in New Mexico, I took the dreaded CTBS test, as well as the PSAT, SAT and ACT. As an adult, I’ve also taken a myriad of job-related tests. But as a mom, I see issues around testing with different eyes — I want to know whether these tests will really be a good use of my child’s time. Will they help me and her teachers understand what she’s mastered and where she still needs help? Or will they only turn her into a giant ball of stress?

I decided the best way to come to an informed opinion about PARCC was to take the test myself. So I did. I sat down one morning and worked through parts of the fourth-grade PARCC test, which can be found on the PARCC website.

I discovered a test that is light-years away from the CTBS test of my childhood. For starters, I had to really think. The exercises were not the mindless ones that often pop into my head when I hear “standardized test”. In literacy, rather than guess at word definitions, I had to understand the use and choice of a word in a specific writing sample, and determine the author’s intent to support my opinion. The math portion required not only a deep understanding of fractions, but that I demonstrate my knowledge in a real world scenario.

It was harder than I expected, but it is exactly the kind of knowledge I want my kids to master, and the kind of thinking we all want our kids doing throughout the school year. I also took away a better appreciation for what a big change this is. The test is certainly harder than those our kids have taken in the past. That’s a good thing. Kids cannot fake their understanding, as I sometimes did in my youth, by randomly filling in multiple-choice bubbles. If my daughter answers a question on PARCC correctly, I can trust that she really learned the concept underlying the question.

When my daughter sits for her first PARCC exam, it will not be without some stress. I suspect her scores won’t be as good this first time around as they would be if she were taking the SBA test that kids have taken for many years in our schools. But if that means I am getting better information about what my daughter is learning and where she needs help, then I welcome the change. In the meantime, I’ve asked her to simply do her best. With hard work and support from her amazing teacher, I have no doubt she will rise to the challenge.

We have big dreams for our kids — but above all we want them to have choices. We want this time in their lives to be about finding their various passions and expressing their creativity. We want them to be able to write their own story. And we want to know without a doubt that they are not denied any choices because they don’t have a rock solid foundation in literacy and math.

Despite the anxieties, PARCC will help us feel confident our children have the academic foundation they need to choose whatever path they want in life.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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