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March 20, 2016




ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In just over two weeks, the 2016 testing window for the much-maligned PARCC exams opens for New Mexico’s third- through 11th-graders. Last year, the test prompted much Sturm und Drang in New Mexico, with critics urging parents to opt their kids out of a test that in their minds is so bad that the consequences of lower school grades and lost federal funding be damned.

And last year, more than 8,000 of the 223,369 New Mexico students who were eligible to take the PARCC didn’t.

So this year, with just one instead of two test windows and fewer hours dedicated to the test (every grade level will spend at least an hour less on the PARCC, with the maximum 14.25 hours in 11th grade), one question looms large before the test questions are asked:

Is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers really a valuable assessment tool when it comes to ensuring students are prepared for life after high school?

Despite what teachers unions say in sound bites, five disparate groups – ones that would likely never nominate the same person for U.S. education secretary – have given an emphatic “yes.” When a global think tank and an Army research group, the conservative Fordham Institute and the progressive Center for American Progress, as well as teachers of the year all agree on the PARCC, it’s time to opt-in to their reviews.

American Institutes for Research

This nonprofit nonpartisan group is one of the largest social science research organizations in the world. Its 28-page report uses the National Assessment of Educational Progress as a benchmark, pointing out NAEP is “often referred to as the gold standard against which other standards can be compared.”

And the PARCC stands up. AIR found “PARCC college-ready standards are comparable in difficulty to the NAEP Basic level for English and the NAEP Proficient level for math.”

Human Resources Research Organization

HumRRO “was created in 1951 by the Department of the Army … to conduct behavioral science research and development in training methodologies and applications.” Its 211-page study found that PARCC tests “emphasize the most important content and require students to demonstrate the depth of work called for by college and career ready standards” and “measure a wide range of real-world skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and analysis.”

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

This ideologically conservative nonprofit education policy think tank supports Common Core, school choice and forceful accountability mechanisms. Its 122-page report gives PARCC good and excellent ratings for determining if students are on track for college and career readiness. Specifically, PARCC’s English Language Arts/Literacy assessments include “suitably complex texts, require a range of cognitive demand, and … emphasize vocabulary and language skills.” PARCC’s math assessments “include items with a range of cognitive demand (and) a variety of item types that are largely of high quality.”

Center for American Progress

This independent nonpartisan policy institute “is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas.” Its 26-page report that focuses on “English language learners and students with disabilities” says “new assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards are a major step forward.”

But the most impressive testament to the value of PARCC comes from teachers.

National Network of State Teachers of the Year

NNSTOY put together “a group of former State Teachers of the Year from multiple states, each of whom has been recognized at the local and state levels for their teaching excellence” to review tests. The 65-page “The Right Trajectory – State Teachers of the Year Compare Former and New State Assessments” found the PARCC “assessments better reflect the range of reading and math knowledge and skills that all students should master” and “while the new consortia assessments are more rigorous and demanding, they are grade-level appropriate, and even more so than prior state tests.”

Those great teachers emphasized a need for “patience from all stakeholder communities while the transition is in progress” and ended with this:

“You may look good playing baseball in the A League when you are winning all the time, so you move up to AAA. And you [lose], because the caliber of player you are up against is suddenly so much higher. But that isn’t a reason to drop back and play in A again – just to look good. No, you stay in AAA, your skills improve from playing at a higher standard, and soon you are winning again in the higher leagues. We all want to play in the Big Show and this is how you get there!”

Heading into the PARCC testing window, five disparate groups say taking the test, not opting out, is what will help New Mexico students make life’s big leagues.

It would be helpful if our education leaders at APS were equally enlightened – encouraging excellence rather than softly pandering to the loud voices of the opt-out movement. Then again, maybe that’s because they don’t want parents to know their kids aren’t ready for Triple A.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or road@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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