I teach in a large public high school, and when state testing comes around, valuable educational time is simply lost. Louisiana requires End of Course (EOC) tests in six subjects, and each test takes two to four days to finish. Such testing begins in April and lasts until mid-May. When a student takes the English II or III EOC test, he/she will miss two class periods because certain portions must be finished on the same day, meaning they will miss not only their English class, but whatever class comes before or after that class, depending on that day’s schedule. Since the tests are given on computers, those teachers blessed—or cursed—with a computer lab for their classroom, are uprooted from their room for weeks at a time, shuffled around the campus to whatever is available. It’s the result of the testing mentality from No Child Left Behind legislation to ensure that students are learning what they’re supposed to be learning. Never mind that it severely disrupts the actual learning process for students and essentially ends the school year around April.
Now add to this mix the entirely-untested PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers) tests. My school district is going to “field test” this goliath, which means more lost time for students. The test can only be given on the most sophisticated computers—because it’s that good—but it has had a horrendous rollout so far in Louisiana. I personally know of an entire school that got shut down when they attempted to give a PARCC test, and for a spell, that school couldn’t even access their emails anymore.
Such sophisticated computers also meant all districts had to spend millions to update their computer labs. Recently, Mercedes Schneider, a highly-qualified teacher and respected educational blogger, wrote that the demands of such high-tech tests is costing the nation untold millions that school budgets must absorb through the usual method: cutting teachers. The PARCC test, at last estimate, costs $29.50 a test, much higher than the Louisiana EOC tests, and each of the computers cost $1100. My school recently bought seven labs’ worth of 30 computers each, so that comes to $231,000. If we were giving just one PARCC tests to the students at my school, the price tag is $70,800; if we gave six, just like the EOC, that’s $424,800. I was unaware that we had millions of dollars to blow on such things.
Here’s the rub: Louisiana will continue to give BOTH EOC and PARCC field tests for the next few years. The PARCC tests aren’t valid yet—probably never will be—and until they are ready, we must continue to give EOC tests. Educational reformists have turned us into testing meccas of measurable outcomes, not educational centers developing a life-long love of learning.