Thursday, October 8, 2015

LA: How To PARCC Up Parents

One of the ongoing challenges of selling the Big Standardized Test is trying to convince folks that the BS Tests are generating some sort of real data. With that in mind, the Louisiana Department of Education has whipped up an awesome video to model how teachers should try to convince parents that the PARCC exam wasn't a huge waste of everyone's time and money.

Emily Martin will be our teacher exemplar; some poor uncredited woman plays the part of Jonah's mom. Emily will show us how to have "an effective parent conversation" about the upcoming PARCC scores (hey-- that must mean they're finally being released! cool!).

Martin opens with a cheerful greeting and delivers some small talk about really enjoyinghavingjohnnyinclasshe'salotoffunokayletsjustetonwithit. Her delivery needs some work, but hey-- she has the highly complex PARCC data on her mind.

Martin says that she wants to be sure that Mom understands the information in the PARCC report from the test that Jonah took last year. She has a packet!! With her name and email on it. The packet looks to be actually a file folder, and the contents would be about two pieces of paper. But Martin has included her name and e-mail on a card. Plus the URL for the Louisiana Believes website.

Jonah's mom starts working her line, because in this "conversation," the parent part seems to be saying "Um-hmm" many, many times. I will report when Mom gets to say her first actual word.

Martin is going to warm Mom up with a sample test result sheet, because we need to warm Mom up for the moment she see's her child's scores and her brain explodes. Also, we need to pad this conversation out because presenting BS Test results is all about trying to make a grain of sand look like the Rock of Gibraltar.

Because here's the thing about the PARCC results. They are bupkus. They are the hair on the pimple on the butt of the world's smallest flea. It is absolutely astonishing that so much testing can result in so little actual information. It's as if somebody chopped down a redwood to make a toothpick.

Now, I hope I didn't get your hopes up-- Jonah's Mom is not here to get Jonah's scores. Not yet. Jonah's Mom is here so that Martin can start the process of managing Mom's reaction to the scores, and to do that, Martin has dragged this parent into school in order to walk her through the state's parent guide to the score.

This is our toothpick guide, and as Martin tries hard to make it look like something, I want you to remember that, according to the guide, the PARCC report will give the following information:

* the student's overall score, rated 1 through 5
* a reading score (1-3)
* a literary text score (1-3)
* a non-fiction reading score (1-3)
* a vocab score (1-3)
* a writing score (1-3)
* a written language score (1-3)
* a writing conventions score (1-3)

That's the rich data we're looking at. But back to Ms. Martin.

Martin is now explaining how the "breakdown" will be super valuable to her because it will show her where the students need extra support. I believe that "where" can best be described as a vague wave accompanied by "somewhere over in that general direction, ish" Remember-- those breakdown scores are just a matter of poor, okay, or swell ratings. So if you tell me, as a teacher, that Jonah is doing okay at reading non-fiction, I know... what? There is literally not a single assessment which I use that does not provide more data depth than this PARCC report.

Martin slips in that the emphasis of all these new standards is college and career readiness, also a bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves. Mom has been upgraded to repeating, "Okay," and I wonder if parents will also be shown this helpful modeling video so that they understand that they aren't supposed to be asking questions or pointing out foolishness or generally doing anything in this conversation except nodding cheerfully. Because it may turn out that some parents are not committed to that script.

Anyway, Martin is "very excited" about the "detailed information" that she's going to be receiving about Jonah and his friends, which is an odd thing to throw in-- "I'll be watching your kid and all the kids." Martin points at the page (she does this a lot) to show where the comparison of school, district and state will be, so that Mom can see if she's keeping up with Jones.

"What I want to prepare you for-" Uh-oh. Time for Martin to let Jonah's mom know that his scores may have tanked this year. But Jonah is a strong student, and Martin would guess that in the past he's done well-- wait! Guess?? Does Martin not have access to Jonah's previous scores? That seems like a huge mistake. Anyway, it may be possible that with the increased rigor and the new standards, his score might not be as great this year. Martin doesn't know because she hasn't seen Jonah's scores yet, so although it's October and he's been in her class for a while, she still hasn't seen the state data that would give her the straight poop on what kind of student he is. He's been awesome and doing great work and meeting a\or exceeding all her expectations, but still-- his scores could suck.

But Martin assures her that the low test score she may see doesn't mean that Jonah is less smart or has learned less or that he's not progressing the way he's supposed to be and I'm pretty sure at this point a real parent is not saying "okay" so much as they're saying "then what the hell is the point of looking at this score if you already know how my son is doing in school??" But the low score is just a reflection of the new standards, and as teachers and students get more comfortable, the scores will go up. So the PARCC measures comfort?? Maybe instead of strong, moderate and weak, student areas should be marked Serta Perfect Sleeper, comfy old couch, and pile of rocks.

Now Martin is on to the specific example scores, as I listed them above. She says these will give us very specific ideas about where Jonah needs work, and now I think the real parent is trying not to laugh, but Jonah's mom nods and says "okay." Martin tries to make hay out of saying that a strong in literary text paired with a weak in non-fiction would give her an instructional brainstorm, what with all the rich, deep information included in those two ratings.

And now she give Mom a quiz, and looking at the second column, asks Mom to show her where the strengths are, because Louisiana feels an important part of this is to be condescending to parents and treat them as if they are nine-year-old students in your classroom??!! I am happy for Jonah's Mom though, who know gets to speak a whole sentence of words to give her answer. "Excellent," says Martin. And Martin again pretends to think these star ratings are a really powerful tool for instruction, because if a person came into my room and said, "Hey, that student there is pretty okayish in writing stuff," that would give me a very powerful sense of exactly what lessons I needed to craft for that child. I could individualize instruction-- and the good news there is that since there are only three possible ratings, I only need three possible lessons to cover all my personalized instruction. Awesome.

Martin will now, and not for the last time, reassure Mom that Jonah's score will not have a big effect on his future or cause him to be held back a grade. This is just part of a "body of work that describes your student's accomplishments" and "it's really designed to be tailored information" and I have no idea what the hell that is supposed to mean, and from the look on Martin's face, neither does she. Jonah's mom says. "This is great" and Martin replies, "Yeah, great" in a tone that suggests "Shut up and stop going off script, you loose cannon." I'm pretty sure that real live parents are going to be rough on this "conversation" model.

Martin is going to send this parents guide home with Mom, who might want to stick it on her refrigerator. Maybe right next to the instructions on How To Read a Thermometer and How To Operate a Light Switch. Martin also directs us to where there are questions about stuff, which basically seems to lead to a discussion of things your student will do next year irregardless of this PARCC nonsense.

Now Martin will provide a specific plug for a specific activity-- the writing journal. Oh, and here's an old favorite-- she used to do crappy journals, but now that they have the standards and the PARCC, the journal will do awesome things. Evidence. Critical thinking. Unicorns. And Martin never heard of how to teach before the new high standards came along. She cheerfully indicts herself-- "In the past, I would have accepted any lazy crap, but now the standards make me do more." Also, the standards magically increase what students can do. Hurray, the standards.

This journal baloney is supposed to be an example of how the PARCC helps her design instruction, because a fish has no feet.

One last thing-- results on the test will not be used to determine student promotion. Want to be clear on that. Scores are part of larger process, because students and teachers are still getting used to the standards. Also, check out the website. With sample test items. Here at the end, Mom asks her first question (Do I need a user name or password?) for the entire "conversation." Jonah's mom is very grateful, and Martin remembers to thank her for taking time off from work so that Martin can read her a printout from a website that Mom could read at home.

I do wonder how many parents will show up for these sessions, and how many of them will leave the session with the feeling that PARCC is a huge waste of everyone's time, as exemplified by the meeting that just wasted their time. I'm sure somebody at LDE thinks they're being clever and proactive about managing expectations, but it's hard to manage people to be excited and grateful about a big poop sandwich.


  1. Ms. Martin forgets to mention that Jonah is in a class with 29 other students and she only gets TWO+ HOURS per WEEK to help her 30 students improve the scores that their teacher next year will find just as useless.

  2. The video is stunning. Who are we as a nation when this utter nonsense and purely superficial mentality becomes the norm? I can see why Peter had to go into detail on this. It is too awful to be true. And I think this scathing assessment was actually gracious. It could be shredded even more.

  3. Notice that the comments for this video are disabled.

  4. I don't think I could stand to watch the video -- this is why I'm so enamored of Peter -- he does our dirty work for us -- but seriously, my youngest daughter just STAR reading tested today and got "basic" -- she was in the 11% of kids that SBAC called "advanced" just six months ago, and I know she is even better at reading now than she was then because she loves reading and does it all the time, and good stuff too. I SO WANT TO BUTTONHOLE THAT AWFUL ARNE DUNCAN AND ASK HIM WHICH TEST IS LYING ? OR ARE THEY BOTH LYING ? And to tell him I am sick and tired of all the lying he and his tests have been doing....I guess to Arne and his replacement John King I am just another dumb parent and part of the dumb parent "special interest group" -- but when you get results that are this inconsistent -- it is not possible to make an argument that both tests are telling the truth.
    If I were still a Democrat, I would be what people call a "good government" Democrat. What we are getting from Obama's Department of Ed is NOT good government, but the worst form of corruption.

  5. Having just gotten out of parent-teacher conferences, all I can say is OMGZ. Gobsmacked.

  6. I laughed so hard I cried, Peter. Great stuff, as always. My favorite thing to do after a long day is to read your blog. Thank you!

    Regina Roybal