What My Students Think of the PARCC Test

IMG_20140422_130626_240In Arkansas next Monday, the PARCC testing window opens. On that day, schools like mine can begin giving the PARCC Performance Based Assessments to their students. To “take the temperature” of my classroom this week, I asked my students to write about what they thought of standardized tests. Below are a few of their answers. I have tried to include samples from a wide range of students – you will hear from my best students and my students who struggle the most. You will also hear from students who love testing and those who hate it (there are many more of the latter). Some answers have been edited for spelling and punctuation errors, but no words or meanings have been changed.

I will not give much commentary, but instead I will let the quotes speak mostly for themselves. I will say this: the only discussion about testing we had in class up to this point was my explaining what the PARCC test is and what students will be expected to do. I did not share my views on standardized testing with students, but more than 90% of my students still said they dislike or hate standardized tests. To those who would say that these are just bratty students complaining because they won’t do well on the test, this is my question: If many students resent being forced to take a certain test, how can that test be a valid measurement of student achievement? How can you assume that all students will do their best on a test they hate?

Thus ends my commentary. Now, listen to what the kids have to say.

“I don’t like standardized tests because they take us out of class and they keep us from doing work in class.” – I.

“I wouldn’t mind them that much if you didn’t have to take so much of them all the time.” – M.

“I don’t really like them because I don’t think there is really any point in taking them. We already have to take quizzes in class. Why can’t we go off that?” – B.

“I think that standardized tests are needed. They’re needed so teachers or staff can see where the students are or where the teachers need to teach more about. But personally I don’t like them, especially the PARCC test.” – L.

“I think we should just learn stuff and not have to take a test.” – C.

“I like it because it takes up time faster and you get snacks and [get to go] outside and it’s easy. It’s kinda fun because you get rewards at breaks.” – C.

“Standardized tests are to evaluate how well the schools have taught children. The only problem is that children hate taking the test, myself included.” – J.

“I think they’re dumb and useless. They take up time that could be used for actual learning, set obscure goals for how much you must learn, and don’t even count toward your grade in most cases. They emotionally damage children, and can cause problems for students suffering from some mental illnesses. They make students anxious and sometimes they are so nervous that they are physically ill. The time they take up could be used for actual learning.” – S.

“I think the standardized tests are dumb. They’re pretty much just like finals, so there’s no real point in taking them. I think it’d be better to just take finals instead of standardized tests and finals.” – K.

“I don’t like the test because the teachers try to get us ready and when they come I black out on them.” – K.

“I don’t like the standardized tests because you have to sit still for hours and not talk at all.” – C.

“I do not like the test at all. They are boring and some of the questions don’t even make sense. In my opinion there is nothing good about them. I honestly don’t see why we have to take these tests!” – K.

“The reason I really like the Benchmark is because it’s really quiet and you actually get your work done and I get relaxed because it’s all quiet.” – M.

“I dislike them because I hate taking tests or quizzes. I like them because we get out of classes and don’t have to learn more on the days we take them.” – H.

“I think they are too much pressure on kids because kids know you have to pass these big tests but kids are so worried about passing the test and getting a good grade that they cannot actually use everything they know […] Personally, I’m scared to take the PARCC test this year. I’m mainly scared about the math part because I’m so horrible at math.” – N.

“Teachers should have their own freedom on what they wish for their class to learn. They should also be able to design tests that they know are more fitting for their students instead of statewide results from students everywhere. These tests lack interest, design, and they often take days from a teacher that he/she could use to teach their students more. Teachers should not have to be told what to teach but should get to decide for themselves.” – H.

“The standardized tests are a big waste of time. We spend a lot of time taking the test and getting ready for the test.” – C.

“What is the difference between the normal tests given by teachers and the PARCC, TLI, and Benchmark tests? The difference is one thing: the standardized tests make you inhuman – you are a number and that is all the state will see. When tests are given by teachers it shows where they need to focus; otherwise you are a number and the teachers can’t help you at all.” – C.

“I think that the tests are useless! They take up time we could be learning in class.” – K.

“I mean, come on. The teachers know that we don’t do our work or pay attention in class. So what’s the point in having a test to see what you learned?” – A.

Arkansas Curriculum Conference

Yesterday, I was very proud of myself: I avoided yelling at a stranger. I was sitting in the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, waiting for a session to start at the Arkansas Curriculum Conference. There were only a few other teachers in the room – and I, being a quiet, unassuming person by nature, couldn’t help but listen in to their conversations. One teacher in particular was ranting about how much she hated the conference we were all attending – she was “fed up,” she said, and this was the “worst thing” she had ever experienced. She said she was ready to go home and this had been a “waste of time.” This is where I had trouble keeping my mouth shut.

You see, I really wanted to tell her that having time off from teaching students to come to this conference was a privilege. I wanted to say: “If you aren’t getting anything from the session you are in, pick a different one.” Or, better yet, present your own next year! Because, while I’ve been attending sessions this Thursday and Friday, I’ve found plenty of thoughtfully planned sessions facilitated by plenty of great teachers with plenty of great strategies to share. But, more importantly than that, I have found time to connect with other educators, share successes and struggles in the classroom, and gain a new hope and revitalization for the rest of the school year. So, Ms. I-refuse-to-be-happy whom I overheard,  to you I say this – if you don’t like coming to conferences like this, don’t come! If you aren’t getting anything out of it, that’s your fault!

So many times, we as educators live in a vacuum. We teach the same kids every day and talk to the same teachers every day in the faculty lounge (and whether we like to admit it or not – these conversations usually take a more negative turn than we intend). We all need time to get away – to connect with the best teachers across our state, to remember that we aren’t the only people facing these struggles, and to realize that there is hope and there is always more we could be doing to reach the kids in our classes.

I don’t really have a closing to this post, other than this – go to conferences! Connect with other educators! If you are in Arkansas, come to the Arkansas Curriculum Conference! But wherever you are – take the time to connect with others, get away from the routine and self-containment of your own class for a while, and rediscover the joy of teaching.