Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PARCC Is Certifiably Ready

When the folks at PARCC say that their tests will help determine if your child is college and career ready, that's not just rhetoric. As of October 2012 (revised February, 2013), PARCC is ready to officially certify your student, and I've been looking at the document that shows how this will work. If you're wondering what "college ready" means to the PARCC folks, here's the explanation.

The meaning of the CCR determination is one bureaucratic Godzilla of a sentence:

A student who is determined to be College and Career Ready through performance on the PARCC high school assessments is one who has demonstrated the academic knowledge, skills and practices in ELA/literacy or mathematics necessary to enter directly into and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in those content areas in programs leading to a credential or degree which may be aligned to the student's career aspirations, from two- and four-year public institutions of higher learning.

The document goes on to note that academic knowledge and skills are not the only factors in college and career readiness; persistence, motivation and time management are also important. PARCC notes this so that we can understand that their estimation of a student's CCR score cannot be 100% accurate.

Benefit of Earning a PARCC College- and Career-Ready Determination

There appears to be just one. One of PARCC's "primary objectives" is to have PARCC-certified students from having to take placement tests when entering college. Well, only placement tests related to possible remediation. PARCC certification is not meant to "inform postsecondary admission decisions."

Criteria Used To Make College- and Career-Ready Determination

Students will need to score a Level 4 on ELA/literacy, Algebra II or Mathematics III.

Determining and Validating College- and Career-Ready Threshold Scores

PARCC is going to establish a standard-setting process for establishing cut scores.There will be five performance levels; Level 4 will be the college-ready score. No mention here if career-ready will be a different level.  But there will be a "standard-setting event" (which hits me sort of like "extinction level event") in the summer of 2015-- right after the first round of PARCCs are given.

The 2015 standard-palooza will "result in identification of the threshold scores for all PARCC performance levels" and will use all sorts of info including the judgment of K-12 and higher ed "professionals," so that could be anybody from custodians to test corporation executives. Here's the statement that will be used to "inform tha judgments of the panelists and to conduct validation studies of the efficacy" of PARCC certification in the future.

Students who earn a College-and Career-Ready Determination by performing at level 4 in ELA/literacy and enroll in College English Composition, Literature, and technical courses requiring college- level reading and writing have approximately a 0.75 probability of earning college credit by attaining at least a grade of C or its equivalent in those courses.

Students who earn a PARC College-and Career-Ready Determination by performing at level 4 in mathematics and enroll in College Algebra, Introductory College Statistics, and technical courses requiring an equivalent level of mathematics have approximately a 0.75 probability of earning college credit by attaining at least a grade of C or its equivalent in those courses.
The 0.75 probability of earning a C was chosen because

1) A C is generally what you need to earn the credit

2) After a lot of discussion, the committee decided that 0.75 was high enough to be high, but no so high that it would be too high. So, science.

3) It accounts for those non-measurable features. In other words, there's a 0.25 probability that your other-wise smart student will flunk out of college because he's a slacker.

Performance  Level Descriptors

The next section of the paper deals with the specifics of the levels. This takes a good nine pages of the text, and some of it is boring, and some of it is ugly in an illuminating way.

The leveling is basically illuminated by the use of adjectives. Seriously. Level 5 is "distinguished command." Level 4 is "strong command." Level 3 is "moderate command." Level 2 is "partial command," and Level 1 is "minimal command." There follows "general content claims" and this where the bright ugly light shines. A Level 5 for ELA/literacy means demonstration of the following:

*Full comprehension of a range of complex literary and informational texts by drawing relevant evidences from texts to construct effective arguments and analyses

*Use of context to effectively determine the meaning of words and phrases

* Highly effective writing when using and analyzing sources, with comprehensive development of the claim, topic, and/or narrative elements by using clear and convincing reasoning, details, text-based evidence, and/or description; the development and organization are consistently appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience

*Highly effective command of the conventions of standard English consistent with effectively edited writing

*Highly effective ability to build and present knowledge through integration, comparison, and synthesis of complex ideas.

I've taken the liberty of bolding every point at which PARCC certification involves a subjective judgment, points at which the test is going to present something as objective or scientific when it is in fact open to debate. How big a range? How full of what sort of comprehension? Relevant according to whom?

And don't even start me on "effective"? Effective to whom? Effective according to what effect? How the heck does someone who is neither the audience nor the author gauge the effectiveness of a piece of writing? I bet the author of this PARCC bulletin thinks it is written in a highly effective manner, and yet I find that it fails completely to effectively convince me of anything.

This is why presenting the PARCC (or any other standardized test) as an objective measure is a crock; at all critical junctures, the test will be based on its designers' personal beliefs about what is effective, what is clear, what is appropriate, and what details are correctly chosen.

And as an English teacher, I'm going to note that this certification that Pat McStudent is ready to skip a college Intro to English course says nothing at all about what literature Pat is or is not familiar with.

So this is what states are being sold as "college readiness," and this is what PARCC CEO Laura McGiffert Slover says marks the end of test prep. One more reason that everybody needs to jump off the PARCC train ASAP-- because it is in fact certifiable.

1 comment:

  1. Slover was a high school English teacher for four years. That makes her an expert, right?