During the month of March, Westfield High School, along with schools in 13 other states, participated in one of the most controversial educational moves to date — the implementation of of PARCC. PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a new kind of standardized test that is broken up into two parts, English/Language Arts and Mathematics, and web-based. While taking PARCC for a week, Westfield High School comes away with a mixed reaction. While there are certainly benefits to the new test format, there were also many drawbacks.
One of the best aspects of the PARCC test was that it was run completely online, and WHS was ready for it. PARCC’s new design and format allowed for a whole new way to test students’ abilities in areas that were previously impossible.
One example of these capabilities was the ‘Research Simulation’ section. Students had to watch a short video or listen to a podcast and then compare the two sources over one common topic or theme. This real world evaluation of student’s research skills is a huge step forward from simple pen and paper essay writings. Furthermore, I feel that the online layout of the exam lends itself well to the evaluation of students’ ability to collect, arrange and analyze information — all critical skills for college and beyond.
However, PARCC does display numerous shortcomings. First and foremost, the test took up too much valuable instruction time. Additionally, while the ELA section of the test carried on without many errors, the Mathematics section of the exam proved to be a completely different story.
For example, many of the math questions had several parts which tested the student on their mathematical abilities. However, many of these questions asked the student to re-enter all of their work onto the computer for full credit. This was a tedious process that often ended with the student adding in 5-8 lines of equations that they had previously done on their scrap paper. Not only did students spend unnecessary time doing redundant work, but they also lost valuable time that could have been spent on other problems.
In addition to the math section of the test, the student interface was very glitchy and needs to be re-designed. Many times, the test was not intuitive and was not straightforward to use. If teachers had not been assigning test prep problems for homework the week before, many students would have been completely lost while trying to navigate the PARCC platform.
In the end, Westfield High School survived the first round of the PARCC examination. That said, however, adjustments need to be made. As with any good school, it is up to us to question and evaluate any new process, identifying the strengths and weaknesses while learning from both.
Maddy Armstrong is a sophomore at Westfield High School.