The Illinois PARCC results were released yesterday and with no surprises. Failure! It’s happening in all the PARCC states. I know a little about why but I wanted the perspective of a teacher so I reached out to one for whom I have great respect. She’s an insightful Chicago teacher of disadvantaged 8th-grade students who cares. Late last night she responded by email. The story she tells is sad and admittedly angers me as it should anyone who reads this. How could our so-called leaders be so incompetent? Or is it part of a plan to demoralize the students and teachers and in the process destroy traditional public schooling? Or are they just plain stupid? Here is her email. I have removed a partial sentence that contains personal information.
First of all, the students are not accustomed to taking a test on the computer. There are different tools and if you don’t have adequate technology in the building, it is hard to expose the students to all the different tools on the test. I had to use a computer projected on my whiteboard to show the students how to use the tools. Now we all know that we learn best by practicing it ourselves. Students weren’t given that opportunity because IL has failed to make sure that EVERY school in the State has the same resources (you know, like a functioning computer lab, for starters). Students aren’t used to typing answers either. They had to explain in writing their thinking but most students don’t have the typing skills. So some just typed the bare minimum which probably wasn’t adequate for PARCC evaluators.
The CCSS are not specific enough. The writers sure think they are but they are clueless. For example, I am teaching 8.EE.1 right now, which are the laws of exponents. I have no idea how in-depth I need to go with that but I do know it is on PARCC. I could spend two weeks easily on laws of exponents but is it necessary? I’m not sure. It is a guessing game as to how deep you need to go. I read some of the standards and I’m like whaaaatttt? I have to Google it and get examples that I am hoping adequately address the standard. I am also relying on other interpretations of the standard and am always left wondering – is this what the writers intended it to mean? Do they not realize how many teachers there are in this state let alone who teach CCSS and the many interpretations that come with it? Did the writers not realize that the stupid little example they provide italicized in the CCSS isn’t enough and there are so many interpretations of just one standard?????? No one really knows what they want or expect because CCSS is not specific enough. Kids also misinterpret questions. I hope PARCC looked at common mistakes and analyzed whether or not the kids misinterpreted the question. I know there were a couple of questions that students had asked me about and I could see it being a problem.
Students can do the problems if they are exposed to the types of questions that are being asked. If I were provided resources that showed the many different ways a question could be asked that address the standard, I could expose my students to those questions. They are children and need to be taught how to tackle questions that require extensive thinking. They don’t come with college degrees and shouldn’t be expected to have that level of thinking. Teachers don’t even think of asking questions in some of the ways that they are asked on PARCC. Give us plenty of samples so we can work with students and help them develop those types of thinking skills. To just throw these questions at them with the attitude that they should know how to do it if they were taught a standard is unfair and does not work.
CCSS assumes that every child has the foundational skills. The way the CCSS should have been rolled out is one grade at a time. Start with Kindergarten. Make all Kindergarten teachers teach it for a year. Then the next year do K and 1st. Then the following year K, 1st, and 2nd and so forth. To expect my 8th graders last year to have mastered all the vague 8th grade CCSS without the 7 years of foundation was completely unfair to them and a waste of everyone’s time. These standards build on one another. The creators knew they built in a progression of the math skills from year to year but none of them allowed for that progression to occur in the roll out.
I also don’t know what to teach when. They tested 75% of the CCSS on the first part of the PARCC test given in April. Okay. What standards comprised the 75%? No one was told that and everyone just kind of went with whatever standards they wanted to teach throughout the year. We were never told these are the standards that should have been taught by the time of PARCC. So some of the questions my students were tested on hadn’t even been taught to them yet because those standards were part of my 25%.
On the reading part, if the students had a question with two parts and they got the first part wrong, they didn’t even grade the second part. So right there, that sets the kids up for failure.
There were no resources available to CPS teachers last year either. CPS wanted to make sure that math textbooks were aligned to the CCSS and did a review of textbooks to check for alignment. The Math Department just released approved textbooks that schools could use in June. I’m glad CPS took that time to really analyze the content of the textbooks but we were left Googling our materials all year. Many schools were using EngageNY ( engageny.org). I’m trying to use that this year but it assumes students have a strong foundation. CCSS doesn’t allow time to review skills. CCSS expects you to just progress to the next standard because all the students mastered all the previous years’ standards and for that reason you can just move on and not have to review anything- oh such a perfect setting that is far from reality! I, as an educated math teacher, have to refresh my memory. I need a review sometimes, especially with more advanced topics in Algebra. Math seems more fortunate than Reading. The Reading teachers have nothing. They are constantly looking for articles, etc. online. They are creating everything from scratch.
Teachers received their degrees in curriculum delivery not curriculum creation. We should have resources that contain materials that adequately help us teach the standards and provide us with a plethora of questions that help us expose student to those questions. I was hired to teach not design. Spending all this time researching the meaning of the standards, researching how in-depth teachers are teaching a skill in a standard, reviewing other interpretations of the standards, hoping that the materials we are using is adequate for the standard, etc. is draining on a teacher. You never feel satisfied because you are never sure if you have taught everything that was expected to be mastered in the standard.
It would help middle school teachers if there were a requirement that primary and intermediate teachers were required to have endorsements in a subject area. Many K-5 teachers lack the confidence in math and do not adequately teach it. So the gap is going to widen even more with CCSS. Students are going to have an even shakier foundation than pre-CCSS.
Okay. I’m tired. I hope it helps. Excuse any grammatical errors. I wanted to just get something to you … and any other free time this weekend requires me to devote it to lesson plans and figuring out the CCSS.
Oh yeah – wait till next year when the data for Science is released. Those NGSS are complicated and Science teachers have no materials to adequately teach them. The fun continues!