Denver resident Pamela Norton is the founder and president of Activate.
Leading up to the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing in Colorado last month, several friends said they planned to pull their kids from the test.
Other friends said their kids were pressuring them to do so. My child did try that tactic, but he knew I wouldn’t agree.
I told my friends to stay strong so they could learn from the data the test would provide. I asked, “How can you help ensure your children are getting the best education if you don’t know how they are doing compared to children in the rest of the world?”
For years, we have been living on “feel-good” subjective standards that gave some of us a false sense that our school is “blue-ribbon,” with the smartest and brightest students. We’ve had only subjective standards for K-12 ever since the testing conversation began in 1959. Since then, we’ve seen many failed government initiatives and programs, until we finally obtained a bipartisan solution six years ago.
Finally, after all this work and investment, the state has implemented the Colorado Measures Academic Success (CMAS) PARCC tests so we can provide parents, teachers and schools with a benchmark and real insights to ensure our children are competitive.
As a marketing executive, I have spent my career recognizing the value of data for my clients. I cannot provide recommendations without critical data to support a recommended plan or strategy. As a parent, I recognize the value of the data PARCC gathers.
When my son completed his 11th grade PARCC exam, I asked him about his experience versus the Colorado state tests. He liked the PARCC test because it was computer-based and he didn’t need to use a pencil.
Yes, he is a digital native who does everything on his computer and mobile phone, so he found the format much easier than the old-fashioned method of filling in bubbles with a pencil. He said he was more engaged with the questions since they were coming from a computer. And he liked having 20 minutes to spare, since he felt he was able to complete this test faster than previous tests because of the online format.
He liked the test questions because they were more in-depth and “made him think” versus the “stupid” questions on the old state tests. He said the answers required more creativity.
The test introduced a multimedia video and then a passage from a Truman Capote short story. Then he was asked to examine the differences between the video and excerpts from the story and explain why the director chose to omit or add certain elements to the video. He not only had to use critical thinking, but also display strong technical writing skills in his response. This question had nothing to do with “teaching to the test.” It had everything to do with students mastering the ability to be critical thinkers and not just test-takers.
Another question required writing a passage from the perspective of another character in the story. This allowed my son to think creatively while also displaying his ability to communicate the position he was taking. And, again, it required critical thinking that can’t be gained from teaching to the test.
PARCC tests help prepare our students for real life, while state tests require memorizing facts. PARCC gives us and our schools detailed and timely reports on each student and helps teachers improve instruction. These new, rigorous tests help ensure our schools go beyond rote memorization. They position our kids for success in college or careers in the 21st century.
And as my son gets ready to head off to college next year, we’ll have a clear picture of where he is academically, and he’ll be a little bit better prepared for the tough tests that college — and life — will throw at him.