Craig students dive into PARCC and CMAS testing; school personnel express concerns
March 20, 2015
Craig — It's the time of year when students, teachers and school administrators buckle down for another round of statewide assessments. This year, the tests have changed, and some Moffat County School District personnel are grappling with challenges and mixed feelings about the tests.
MCSD students grades three through 11 are now two weeks into the PARCC testing window that runs March 9 through 27. Craig Middle School began its testing a week early, however, to accommodate a short supply of computers.
"I do appreciate that the tests have media in it, it makes it more engaging," said Amy Ward, director of curriculum and assessment for MCSD. "What it does is eats up your computer lab time, which is very difficult for teachers who are using lab time for research projects and more authentic learning tasks."
The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers) and CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success) replace past state tests TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) and CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program).
The MCSD Board of Education joined the ranks of several other districts in the state by passing a resolution in February to apply for a waiver from PARCC testing from the Colorado State Board of Education.
PARCC and CMAS entered the picture after the State Board adopted the new Colorado Academic Standards between 2009 and 2011. The TCAP was developed to help schools transition to the new, more rigorous standards.
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The State Board later wove Common Core standards into its English and math standards, and created standards in science and social studies, a subject which had been left out of prior tests.
This year marks the first year of a complete transition to the new standards. The CMAS debuted last spring, with tests in science (for fifth- and eighth-graders) and social studies (for fourth- and seventh-graders). Seniors are tested on both in the fall, which draws criticism from Moffat County High School science teacher Evan Gaffney.
"(It's) a horrible idea," Gaffney said. "Seniors already know what's on their plate future-wise… Our seniors aren't engaged enough for us to get any meaningful data. They have no buy- in."
In contrast, Gaffney said tests like the ACT and AP tests offer students incentive to perform well because it directly affects their own futures, from getting accepted into college to receiving college credit for Advanced Placement courses.
The PARCC is a national test used in at least 13 states, and measures students based on Common Core standards in English language arts and math.
Following on the heels of the PARCC, the CMAS testing window will run April 13 through 27, followed by the PARCC end of year testing, which is designed to measure students' progress from the first round to the second.
"Some students will roll right into one assessment from another assessment," said East Elementary School Principal Sarah Hepworth. "That's probably to students and teachers what's most alarming is that we're always testing."
Hepworth, Ward and Gaffney all expressed misgivings about the usefulness of the scores. The district doesn't receive its testing scores for at least six months, after students have moved onto the next grade.
"Right now, it's really a dipstick of learning and nothing else," Ward said. “The tests are still new however, so time will tell how this information could be used to improve learning.”