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By Kisha Clark

If you’re like me, you gasped when you first saw D.C.’s PARCC, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, scores this past fall.

You may have even cried or became upset. I experienced all those emotions in less than five minutes. Then, I quickly shifted to thinking about the responsibility we bear as parents to improve our children’s learning trajectory. It was not about what the teachers or administration did or did not do, but what we, as parents, can and must do.

The PARCC is an interactive, computer-based test that aligns with the Common Core State Standards. Only 31 percent of students who took the ELA PARCC assessment were on or above grade level. Fewer students were proficient in ELA in 2022 than in 2019. PARCC scores show decreases in proficiency rates were particularly pronounced in the third through eighth grades. It is also important to note that 81 percent of the students who took the math PARCC were below grade level. In addition, math proficiency dropped significantly across all grades. 

PARCC is meant to be an objective way of measuring what students know. But the implications of PARCC are far reaching. PARCC data is used to measure student achievement in comparison to others, in their school and across school districts. It is also intended to drive instruction and to hold teachers accountable for student performance. While the PARCC and other standardized tests generally measure performance, it does not always accurately measure student learning comprehension, achievement, or analytical skills. 

 To put it simply, PARCC is not the only determinant of a student’s ability to learn.

Research and practice suggest that PARCC can have both positive and negative effects on students. From a positive perspective, testing can drive curriculum; improve test taking skills; validate and encourage students with good scores; and facilitate studying and memorization.  

However, while we can acknowledge the positives, we must be just as cognizant of the negative impacts. 

LIke all assessments, PARCC testing can be stressful. This is particularly true when testing is timed, and students who have struggled in educational contexts in the past are likely to feel the stress most acutely. 

The main goal of standardized testing is to objectively measure students’ progress as well as hold schools and teachers accountable for teaching all learners. There are those who argue testing is an inappropriately punitive way to measure educational outcomes, and that testing is inherently biased and will never tell the whole story about what happens in schools and classrooms. Still others argue that we cannot solve a problem like opportunity gaps without fully understanding them and standardized testing is a key tool in doing that.

No matter where you stand on testing, though, the reality is that, at least for now, it is part of the fabric of our students’ lives. Thus, it is important to think about how testing impacts our students. This includes educational effects, of course, but it also includes psychological and social effects. 

We have to ask ourselves where the responsibility lies for improved PARCC scores. Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino students saw the largest decrease in proficiency rates on ELA assessments (percentage would be good here). Moreover, ELA scores decreased by 6 percentage points and math scores by 10 percentage points for at-risk students. 

Parent involvement in a child’s education is consistently found to be positively associated with a child’s academic performance. We can help our students by talking with teachers and understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses. When those areas have been identified, we know which skills to reinforce at home. We can read with our children to check understanding, comprehension, sequence of events, and other important details. We can set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive) goals with our children. Meeting these goals can help boost your child’s confidence before the PARCC assessment. We might also help children to relax before the exam by providing strategies and tools for remaining calm before the PARCC. 

While the PARCC assessments are essential, they are not the only way to gauge a child’s success. No standardized test or grading system is perfect. All assessments have limitations, and the PARCC is no different. We must be mindful that testing is just one part of our childrens’ education. With parents’ support and involvement in their education, all children will be on their way to a bright future.

Kisha Clark is a parent advocate with Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE).

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