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The Disconnect Between PARCC and Our Teaching

by Michael P. Henry and Kelly Klein
 | Apr 29, 2015

As reading and writing teachers who value providing authentic experiences for our high school students, we feel compelled to examine the disconnect between our students’ experiences with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and our approach to teaching reading and writing.

Our ninth-grade students took the PARCC performance assessment in March. The morning following testing, we prompted our freshman English classes to journal about their PARCC experience. We asked them to respond honestly about how the PARCC made them feel. The following examples sum up what the students had to say:

  • “The test made me feel frustrated, dumb, stupid, and that doesn’t feel good.”
  • “The test made me feel confused, dumb, and unknowing.”
  • “The PARCC test made me feel like a 5-year-old learning for the first time.”
  • “The test made me feel stupid and lowered my self-esteem.”
  • “I felt really down because I couldn’t answer any of the questions.”
  • “The test was extremely hard, and I never want to take it again.”

As teachers, we work tirelessly beside our students, guiding their decision making to facilitate their literacy identities. Our purpose has been to develop positive lifelong reading and writing attitudes and habits. We have taught them that reading and writing are processes that develop over time (e.g., days, weeks, or months) as they actively engage in decision making. We have taught them to choose their topics and purposes wisely because the reading and writing begins when they make these initial decisions. We have watched our students grow significantly as confident, competent readers and writers, which is why their responses bother us so deeply.   

Why did our students have such negative responses to their experience with PARCC? During reading classes, students choose books so they can use their background knowledge and experiences as all good readers do. In these classes, students have read deeply and critically and have been instructed to decide what is important from the text and prove it in their writing, discussions, and conferences. In their writing classes, students have been instructed to choose topics around their interests and their expertise so they craft purposeful writing. They have had to decide which form best meets their purpose and to use mentor texts as their guides. We have mandated that they draft, confer, revise, edit, and publish. Through modeling, we show them that writing does not simply pour out on the page. We have encouraged our students to think freely, embrace their individual learning styles, and find a workable learning pace. PARCC included none of these options for our students.

Instead, PARCC said read and interpret this passage this way. PARCC said organize the main ideas using this method. PARCC said take 90 minutes to read three complex passages, answer six analytical questions, and write an essay in this box. There was no free thinking, individuality, or pacing. There was frustration, confusion, low self-esteem, defeat.

These observations frustrate us because PARCC, we believe, could offer customization. After all, different students were given different passages to read. Why could they not choose which ones they read? This way, they could engage their schema and begin the reading process before reading the text. For the writing, why are they told to write a narrative or expository piece? Could they not decide which form best meets the function? And why write in a little box? Perhaps if the screen split in half, giving the test takers a full-line view, students could more easily write, revise, edit, and back-and-forth their way to a well-written response. To scroll up and down to write disrupts the writing process.

PARCC was pitched as revolutionary. Take away the servers, the flashing lights, the backlighting, the typing, and the clicking and dragging—we’re left with the same old test. Students sitting in rows being tested on what someone else thinks is important and being asked to prove their understanding as someone else decided they should prove it. They are reading what some other person picked out and being asked to write in a format that someone else chose.

At this point, the only thing revolutionary about PARCC is that it made our students feel less motivated, less confident, and less competent. Our students will take the PARCC again in May. With what attitudes will the students show up?

Michael HenryMichael P. Henry is a literacy coach and reading teacher at Reavis High School in Burbank, IL. As a dissertation candidate at Northern Illinois University, his research interests include adolescent reluctant readers, adolescent reader identity, and high school reading intervention. Henry has served as chairman for ILA’s Teacher Advisory Panel and as chairman for the Advisory Committee of Teachers. He currently serves as a member of the Adolescent and Adult Literacy Committee for ILA. Kelly Klein is also a teacher at Reavis High School. Teaching both ninth-grade English and 11th-grade American Studies, her pedagogical philosophy focuses on helping her students become independent readers, writers, and thinkers.


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