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College- and Career-Readiness Assessments: Results Are (Coming) In


College- and Career-Readiness Assessments:

Results Are (Coming) In

Lorretta Holloway, PhD, Interim Vice President, Division of Enrollment and Student Development, Framingham State University (MA)
Anitra Pinchback-Jones, Principal, Rainier View Elementary School (Seattle, WA)
Robert Rothman, Senior Fellow, Alliance for Excellent Education
Marti Shirley, Mathematics Teacher, Mattoon High School (IL)

As states begin to release results from new assessments that measure college and career readiness, what do the results mean? On September 9, 2015, three educators–Lorretta HollowayAnitra Pinchback-Jones, and Marti Shirley–discussed their experiences with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessment (SBAC), which were administered for the first time in 2014-15 in 29 states (Washington State administered SBAC; Massachusetts and Illinois administered PARCC).

For a short summary of some of the key points from the webinar, read the blog post by Donique Reid and Robert Rothman, the webinar’s moderator. To watch archived video from the webinar, use the player at the top of this webpage.


Bob Rothman:    Good afternoon. My name is Bob Rothman. I’m a senior fellow at the Alliance for Education, a nonprofit –

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Bob Rothman:    – policy and advocacy organization in Washington, DC. I’ll be your host today. We’re very glad that you’ve joined us for the next hour, as we examine one of the most important issues in education today: new assessments to measure students’ college and career readiness. And please join the conversation by using the hashtag All4Ed. 

As all of you know, states have redefined education in the past five years by setting standards aimed at ensuring that all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers, and nearly all states have put in place new assessments to measure students’ progress towards that goal. Over the past few weeks, a number of states have released results from these new assessments, and more states are set to release results in the next month or so.

As state officials expected, the results appear to show that fewer students are proficient in English language arts and mathematics than previous assessments had indicated. This does not mean that students are performing less well. These are new tests measuring different content based on different standards. The results set a baseline for future results, which are likely to rise as teachers and students become better versed in the standards. 

What do these assessments look like, and what do the results indicate? We are fortunate today to get answers from educators who’ve been intimately involved in the development and scoring of the new assessments. With us today are Lorretta Holloway, interim vice president of the Division of Enrollment and Student Development for Framingham State University in Massachusetts. She will discuss what the assessments mean for college readiness. 

Also with us today are Anitra Pinchback-Jones, the principal of Rainier View Elementary School in Seattle, and Marti Shirley, a mathematics teacher at Matune High School in –


We look forward to your participation during this webcast, especially via a box on the webcast page where you can ask questions. We will go to those questions from time to time to answer what’s on your mind, but please know that we will not be able to get to every question. In fact, we received dozens of questions before this webcast even got started, when you registered. And again, please join us on Twitter using the hashtag All4Ed. 

To begin the discussion, let’s hear from the educators about their experience with the new assessments. Let’s begin with Lorretta. Tell us what you do and what your involvement has been with PARCC. Loretta?

Lorretta Holloway:    Yes. Hi. I’ve been on the PARCC grade English, language arts, literacy performance level setting team. I was also on the post-secondary educators’ judgment study in January. I’m also a member of the Massachusetts delegate on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers as their coordinating council member.

Bob Rothman:    Okay. And what is your role with the university?

Lorretta Holloway:    I was a English faculty member for 16 years, and I just started as the interim vice president of student enrollment and student development at Framingham State about a month and a week ago.

Bob Rothman:    Congratulations. Anitra, you’ve been involved with Smarter Balance.

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Yes.

Bob Rothman:    What –

A. Pinchback-Jones:    And good afternoon, everyone. My role specifically, I’m an elementary school principal in the State of Washington, and the primary instructional leader for the building. And part of that role is leading professional development for teachers with the transition within our state to implement the newly adopted common core state standards as measured by the Smarter Balance assessment.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Marti, welcome. What has your role with PARCC been?

Marti Shirley:    Primarily with PARCC, I’ve been able to be part of the performance level threshold setting as well, and I was lucky enough to be able to do that during the dry run, and in July, when we really finalized those. And my role within my district in terms of that is I’ve been very aware of PARCC since the beginning, and I’m trying to bring that within the high school as well as within the middle schools in terms of vertical articulation, trying to help prepare educators for the PARCC, and realizing how to make changes.

Bob Rothman:    And in your day job you’re a high school teacher?

Marti Shirley:    Correct.

Bob Rothman:    Of mathematics? Is that right?

Marti Shirley:    Of mathematics of all levels.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. All of you, I’d like to know how the experience with the assessments affected your work and your practice throughout the year. So let’s start with Marti. How did being involved with PARCC and seeing the assessment items affect your teaching?

Marti Shirley:    Well, luckily, I did this during the summer, and that gave me some time to prepare and think about how I wanted to implement these changes. I’ve been able to create some of my own PARCC style questions with similar rubrics, as working with those really gave me a good idea of how students were going to be assessed. 

And it was great, because it made me realize, you don’t always have to get full points on a question to really have a strong grasp of the information. So within the classroom, it’s been a really great idea to implement that concept, as it gives students a higher level to strive to, a challenge, if you would, to push them beyond the minimum expectations. 

So the assessment of multiple skills in one question has allowed less questions and a more realistic experience of what they would see in life. And that’s – it’s been phenomenal.

Bob Rothman:    Great. Anitra, how have you used your understanding of Smarter Balance to – in your school?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Oh, very good question. Similarly to what Marti said, here at Rainier View Elementary, we use the knowledge of the assessment to inform classroom practices, and closely align with the common core state standards. 

But just to extend on the previous response, the Smarter Balance assessment really focused on the application of content knowledge, and so the performance tasks used within the English language arts as well as the mathematics on the assessment is a shift within the classroom instruction for students as well as teachers.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. Lorretta, from your perspective in the university, how has the university responded to the new standards and the introduction of PARCC?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I think that many in higher ed are excited and cautious about the new assessment. I’ve been part of looking at the English language arts curriculum far before we had discussions about the common core or PARCC, and that was part of the Commonwealth – I’m from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – the Commonwealth’s idea of really trying to have more communication and conversation between K through 12 and higher ed individuals. 

We have a discussion always of helping students become college and career ready, but if there is no discussion between the instructors who teach students in their K through 12 years and the instructors that teach them in higher ed, there really is very little – it’s a lot of guess work, is what was happening. 

And so I think what we’re very excited about is this has really increased that kind of conversation, and hopefully, that kind of conversation will help students be better prepared and have – and have a clearer understanding of what’s expected of them when they make that transition into higher education, as well as more clear information for their families about what they should be expecting.

Bob Rothman:    Okay. Thank you. As I mentioned in the opening, results are starting to come out. Anitra, of the three of you, your state was – is the only one that’s so far released its results. And what did the results say about student performance in Washington State and in Rainier View?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Washington State results overall were positive. The performance was better than anticipated from developers of the Smarter Balance. And so our state superintendent, Randy Dorn, as well as educators and parents, the initial response has been that we’ve been very pleased with this baseline year of results, as we have officially as a state transitioned from the Washington State standards to the common core standards. And so it’s definitely a great beginning for the state. 

And more importantly, these results will help guide our next steps within the classroom instructionally, ensuring that the rigor levels are aligned to the common core state standard. And when students graduate within the State of Washington, they have critical thinking skills needed for college and beyond.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. And for Marti and Lorretta, what – based on what you’ve seen of the assessment, what do you expect the results to show? In what areas do you expect students to do well, and what areas might students be still struggling?

Marti Shirley:    I would say from the high school point of view specifically, similar to other states we would expect our performance to be, but it’s the first time that students have seen this test and these types of questions, so I’m not sure that the scores will be as high as we would like. But I think students will find success on the basic skills questions, as that’s the format they’re most familiar with. 

The multi-part questions, with the inclusion of modeling and reasoning, are newer practices. And we as educators within our state and district are still learning how to better incorporate that into our classroom and our teaching practices, so I think that’s where they’re going to struggle the most, is those multi-part questions, where they’re really expected to have written responses and justify how they came to the conclusion they did.

Lorretta Holloway:    I’d actually agree with Marti. Even though she’s talking about math, and I was in the room with the ELA, I think those words that she was using, modeling, reasoning, the multi-part questions, assessing what they read, making some judgments, I think the students will do well on the sort of basic comprehensive, because that is, as she said, kind of what they’re used to doing. 

What from my perspective, and the types of things that I see as weaknesses in students coming into higher ed, is that they struggle with the kinds of questions that we’re asking them to do, which is to go beyond reading for comprehension, but assessing, making some kind of judgment, valuing evaluative commentary, analysis, actually applying the information that they’ve read. They know it, but can they use it? 

And I think that’s something that’s really reflected in the common core. It’s really the skills with the content, not just can you read it, but what you can do with it. And I think the assessment really measures that.

Bob Rothman:    Thanks, Lorretta. I want to follow up on that, and compared with the previous Massachusetts test, which was considered fairly rigorous, is PARCC a harder test, or does it measure different things?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I can say from my perspective, as I’m not a expert on the MTSS – you’d have to ask a K through 12 teacher. But from the things that I’ve reviewed, I think it’s a different test. It goes a little deeper in the kinds of things that it asks of students, than the MTSS test does. 

And I think that from what some people have said, it seems the reading complexity, the complexity of text material, is also different. I wouldn’t – I don’t know – I hesitate to say it’s harder, but I think the kinds of questions that the students are being asked to respond to in response to the texts are different, and more complicated.

Bob Rothman:    Anitra, the same question. How does the Smarter Balance compare with the previous Washington State assessment?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Definitely the Smarter Balance, the level of rigor, although different, or – excuse me, although similar in some areas from our previous Washington State test, but there’s been a transition from assessing students’ basic knowledge and basic skill level to the application of knowledge. And so when we think about the levels of Bloom’s, I would say moving out of that level one and two from previous assessment measures to really the higher levels of three and four, being able to use multiple resources, citing your evidence within the text. 

And I know earlier on in this conversation we talked about the justification piece, but also making an analysis and judgment based off of information that students have been presented with within the content.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Marti, how would you compare PARCC with the previous Illinois State test?

Marti Shirley:    Well, I would somewhat agree with Lorretta and Anitra, as I believe the Illinois test really just was evaluating almost right and wrong. It was very much a skill assessment. I mean, there were some word problems, so to speak, where they had to interpret. But now we’re talking not only about one right answer, but multiple select, which is new to students. And so just because they see a correct answer doesn’t mean that they’re done with that problem, and they really have to go through and evaluate all possibilities. 

Plus, it goes beyond that, and Anitra brought up Bloom’s taxonomy. I think synthesis in terms of the mathematics is really the biggest part, as it’s forcing them to elaborate and explain and prove, and to delve deeper into problems.

Bob Rothman:    So let me follow up, then. What do you do in the classroom to prepare students to answer those types of questions and perform well?

Marti Shirley:    Well, I would think that we’re changing our styles. We’re incorporating more of the mathematical practices, and we’re asking our students through writing and the spoken language to critique others’ reasoning and to question their responses. We’re helping them learn to elaborate and develop a deeper understanding of the material, and in my own district, we’ve switched to an integrated curriculum, because one, when you switch that, it’s forcing everyone to get out of their comfort level when you change curriculums, but it also is helping students develop more connections, and a realistic component of life, as all ideas are used together when you’re given a problem within a job or the real world.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Anitra, what are your teachers doing to prepare students for this assessment?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    One of the big shifts with the common core state standards is really focusing on the eight mathematical practices within the classroom, and then on the English language arts side, within the balanced literacy framework, focusing in on the shared reading components, the interactive read aloud, but in sharing that, students are exposed to complexity within texts with multiple views, and have lots of time through discourse, through written response opportunities, or extended response opportunities within the classroom, to form their judgment or analysis of texts. And so that’s definitely a shift from in previous years within the classroom, you may read an article, you answer the five basic questions, the who, what, where, why, and how. And so the shifts in instruction are definitely observable within the classroom.

Marti Shirley:    And if I may add one thing –

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Please, Marti.

Marti Shirley:    – listening to what she had to say, one of the other things I think educators and districts need to be aware of is it’s not just giving practice questions to prepare them, because I know for ACT and other things like that, in our classroom, we tend to give practice ACT tests, or look at the questions. 

But this isn’t just a matter of students having exposure to the type of question that they’ll see, but actually putting the practices into place within your classroom, because it’s more than just an exam. It’s going to be a measure of not only students’ knowledge, but their ability to reason and to model and to understand, which is why I feel the PARCC test is so much different and so much better than a lot of the ones we’ve had in the past.

Bob Rothman:    Thank you. What – Lorretta, what is higher education doing in Massachusetts, and what can they do in the future, to help prepare teachers and school leaders to help students prepare for these assessments?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I think it’s – there’s two things. I mean, first of all, most of the education programs for future teachers are in higher ed, not just here, but across the country. And so it really – it’s really part of higher ed’s responsibility as part of teacher education so that even in the pre-service years, we make them familiar with the common core and the anchor standards, we make them familiar with what the – each state’s assessment is going to be. 

But also, too, but more than just the assessment piece, because I don’t believe in teaching to the test, as Marti sort of was applying about what often people do, and they’re doing test prep, is really making sure that our student teachers and the pre-service teachers have that education themselves, that they’re able to do those things themselves, they feel confident in their ability with the content and the skills themselves, so that they’re able to teach others in a wide variety of ways, and also to teach a wide variety of students, because we have changing demographics and different kinds of students’ needs. And this test is not just going to be testing some students, but all students. And how do we reach all of those different students with the different level skills?

The other responsibility that higher ed has is to really become a partner with K through 12. We can no longer pretend that we’re just a receptacle to students coming up from a different system, but we really have to have some fair and honest conversations that go both ways, from what we can learn from teachers in K through 12, what they can learn from us, getting information about what are some of the strategies they use in their classroom for student success, and what are some of the expectations that we have that we could share with them, but also things that we can learn from them. 

If that – if we do not end up really having a national pre-K through 16 conversation, then I think we can keep doing all sorts of assessments, and we’re still going to have students that are struggling. So it really has to – I’m really hoping that this is a sincere first step to having that new union between higher ed and K through 12. I think it’s essential, and it’s a way for us to partner, to really go into communities and talk about what communities need, so we can support parents and grandparents and family members to set up those kinds of areas and spaces at home to really help the students succeed. 

Because some of the things, when you look at the common core, they’re testing – they’re looking, trying to figure out ways for students to read on their own. Well, there’s just so much that a classroom teacher can do in the classroom. The student has to also have that kind of support network and that kind of space at home.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Great. Thank you. Anitra, what kind of support has the district and State of Washington provided your teachers and yourself, and what could they be doing in the future?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Excellent. So Seattle Public Schools, in partnership, of course, with Washington State, has provided teachers with many professional development opportunities. Webinars are available for teachers on our OSPI website. And then there are a host of professional development in the shifts within the common core state standards, in all districts.

Bob Rothman:    Marti, has your district and state support you and your fellow teachers?

Marti Shirley:    There’s been a lot of support within the state. In fact, we have another member within our district who works with the elementary PARCC decision making, and we have a very involved community that whoever has been involved with PARCC communicates throughout the state through the ISBE, which is our governing board for education.

There’s also, through our website, a lot of lesson planning that is set up in the structure that you would need to do as you develop those changes in curriculum. So it’s helping provide teachers with a lot of those questions techniques and sample assessment items that are the things that usually take so long to create, and make it what’s so difficult to get it implemented. So I would say that they are providing us continual instruction and professional development opportunities. And I know within my own district any time we’ve asked, they have been on board with trying to look at whatever it is we need, whether it’s time or experts to come in. I believe Illinois really is supportive and excited about the PARCC, and wants to support educators any way they can.

Bob Rothman:    Great. Thank you. Anitra, what has the response been from parents about the assessments, especially now that the results have come out?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    The response – mm-hmm?

Bob Rothman:    I’m sorry. Go ahead.

A. Pinchback-Jones:    The response from parents has been very positive. One of the things within our district as well as our state, we provided a lot of information for parents, opportunities for parents to learn more directly from each school about the Smarter Balance assessment, as well as the shift to the common core state standards. 

An early indication from our parents, they are pleased with students’ results and the positive direction. One of the big changes with the Smarter Balance from our previous Washington State assessment is that student results are presented on a continuum, and so it has provided additional information for families, not only if your student – or excuse me, if your child met the skills score expectation for the grade level, but actually within the continuum of K-9 for high school or K-12 for the state, of where your child actually – performance levels are in English language arts as well as mathematics. And so that has been received very positively.

Bob Rothman:    Okay. Marti, what have the parents in your community been saying about the assessment?

Marti Shirley:    We’ve been very lucky in our community, and I can’t say that throughout the state, but our parents have been extremely supportive. And one of those reasons I believe is that we do parent forums throughout the year, and we invite the parents to come in and hear from the teachers and ask questions. And they’ve been very realistic, and the comments that they’ve made are this is just another way to look at our students’ abilities. This is just another measure of where they’re at. 

And part of that is their confidence that they’re still looking at taking an ACT for college admissions at this point, knowing that it’s a new tool that’s out there. But they’re very curious to see the results that are coming out this fall. And I think it’ll bring some very interesting parent forums and discussions once we see those results.

Bob Rothman:    Lorretta, have you been hearing from parents of applicants or new enrollees?

Lorretta Holloway:    I think the reaction has been mixed. I don’t think the parents have had issue with the content so much as – of the test, but they’re – depending on the district, there has been some questions and concerns about, as there has been nationally, about over-testing. The different – not only do we have the state test, but different districts also do various standardized tests. So there’s been just some questions about which ones people want to use, which ones are the most beneficial, getting the information back to the teachers quickly enough so they can actually use it for diagnostic purposes and lesson planning, and that kind of thing.

So I don’t think it’s necessarily the test itself. It’s just a question about testing in general that parents have been talking about.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. Thank you. As I mentioned, we’ve gotten some questions from viewers. I want to start to turn to those. This is from Joseph from New York City, who asks if there were any obstacles or challenges that presented themselves as you administered the assessment this past year. I know because this was administered on computer, in some places there were some technical problems. Did you encounter any of those, Anitra?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    No, actually, we did not. Fortunately, our district in preparation for this school year started well in advance, equipping schools with laptop carts, in addition to the computer labs that a lot of schools have within Seattle Public Schools. And so I would say as far as my knowledge from Seattle Public Schools, they did an excellent job of preparing for the transition, recognizing that this is a shift for online testing for all students.

Bob Rothman:    Marti, were there any challenges in your district?

Marti Shirley:    I’d like to echo that thank goodness, we did not experience really any technical problems at all, which was fantastic. I think the obstacles that we faced were more content-based, as stats and probability a lot of times in the algebra two curriculum, typically, it’s at the end of the book. So that’s what doesn’t necessarily get covered as in depth as it should. So with that being one of the main content areas that we’re expected to cover now, those questions that were on the assessment, our students felt less confidence with. 

And so that was definitely an obstacle for our students, but an eye opening experience for our staff, as we know that’s an area now we really need to work on and make sure the timing of our curriculum is better aligned to the concepts that are being tested.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. We also got a couple of questions from Tracy from Memphis and Beth from Oregon about the possible discrepancy between the results from these new tests and existing tests like the National Assessment for Education Progress and the ACT or SAT. Lorretta, let me start from you. If there is a discrepancy between the PARCC results and the SAT, how do you explain that to parents, and how is that communicated?

Lorretta Holloway:    I’m not sure I’m understanding the question.

Bob Rothman:    If the results appear different, that either students do better on the SAT than they do on PARCC, or vice versa, how do you explain that?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I mean, you can – we have students that take both the ACT and the SAT, for example, and the tests are different tests. Even though both of them are tests that often colleges take as part of their admissions process, even admissions officers understand that they’re actually testing – they’re different kinds of tests, and some students will do better on one kind than another. So I think that’s something that everybody needs to take a look at. 

I also think that from the higher ed perspective, and looking at the test, I know there is discussion about using or helping – using the test to help with placement. But remember, too, that’s placement, not admission. So that’s one of the things I would caution parents about, is that it’s – for – from the higher ed perspective for these tests, they’re looking at them as – partly as placement, but also, too, both for ACT and SAT, it’s usually one of many factors that is part of admission.

So that’s what I would say about – from the higher ed perspective, about the discrepancy between the tests. I also would just take a look at what the tests are asking, and do a comparison. I think most of the states will be doing that, too. It won’t be looking at just the Smarter Balance test or the PARCC test, but also – there’s no discussion of not – of no longer doing the NAEP to look at national assessment.

Bob Rothman:    Okay. A related question from Pashoy from Washington, DC. Maybe, Marti, if I could ask you, is there any difference between the work – the grades that students get in class and what teachers see day to day and what you expect the performance on the PARCC to be?

Marti Shirley:    Well, I think we’ll have to, one, wait for the results to really have a true picture of that, but my anticipation is that they won’t be as necessarily high as the students’ grades are in class, because often teachers and schools aren’t implementing fully cumulative tests in every unit. And this is an exam that’s expecting students to have a retention of all the material they’ve learned. In addition to that, it is asking questions in a format that we don’t currently typically ask on assessments. You know, it takes a lot of time to grade all of those, and I think we’re just now realizing how to implement them in our classrooms, without it taking a week to return a test. 

So I think that right now there’s a discrepancy just because of the type of questioning between classroom and the PARCC. But also, because as classroom teachers, we need to do a better job of spiraling all the concepts throughout the year and making sure that the students aren’t just learning them for that test, but that they’re continuing to retain the information, which I know is one of the biggest concerns for math educators.

Bob Rothman:    Anitra, would you agree with that?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Yes. Yes.

Bob Rothman:    Okay. And we had a question from Kate from New York City, who wants to know what the students’ experiences were, taking these assessments. Anitra, what – did you get any reaction from the students in your school?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    So it’s still early, and students have not officially returned back to school, but we are excited to meet with students and families to share individual progress reports, this fall.

Bob Rothman:    But while they were taking the assessment, did you hear any comments from students about what the test itself was like?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    You know, just from observation, students appeared to be comfortable with the assessment. Students are used to using computer supported materials within their classrooms, and so – I mean, they are aware that this is a summative assessment, but overall, students were – showed very positive attitudes during testing.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Marti, did you get any reaction from your students?

Marti Shirley:    Very mixed. I would say that our students were very focused, and it was nice to see all of them engaged and really trying on the exam. But a lot of them came out of there saying their head hurt, I believe was the best way to phrase it. And I think that’s a good thing, because it means they were really focused and trying and engaged in that questioning process. 

But I do think it’s also a testament to what they’re used to as to what they’re being asked now. Where we’re at with the PARCC is the very beginning of a process that is going to help I think shift a lot of the educational practices within classrooms, and really encourage and push educators in the direction of using those mathematical practices and exposing students to more than just skill-based problems.

Bob Rothman:    Okay. Thank you. Lorretta, we had a question from Eric from St. Louis and others about college readiness, and Eric points out that in his assessment for measuring transition to college, there are four development areas, including academic, career, financial, and personal. Where does something like PARCC fit in in the overall definition of college readiness?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I think it – obviously, it addresses issues of academics, because it’s looking at content, information, and skills. But in many of our discussions during the level testing, or level – performance level setting over the summer, we were also talking about how the way they’re asking the questions also addresses part of the personal. Now there’s also the other things involved in college readiness, with personal – you know, so attitude about yourself, etcetera. But one of the things that we talk about in higher ed with our incoming freshmen is this issue of persistence and sustaining themselves.

And one of the things that has come up repeatedly, even in this conversation, is the multi-part questions of digging deeper, of going to the higher level of reasoning, judgment, and analysis, and a bunch of that, you know, those kinds of skills are also behaviors, and whether or not students just have practice doing that, believe in themselves that they’re able to do that, have the persistence to read to the end of the question, go to the multi parts of the question, don’t quit, don’t get tired of reading through materials. 

One of the things that we see in students coming in is just they don’t have the sort of – the staying power often to get through longer projects. They – we talk about this current generation of wanting everything quickly, of going to YouTube, of only looking things up in Google, and only looking at the first line of a Google search and not being interested in anything else. 

And that is something that people in higher ed complain about. I’m pretty sure Marti complains about that often about her students, and so does Anitra. But it’s also, too, what employers complain about, that we need people who can do follow-through, who will read to the end of the text, or read more on the multiple levels of the test. 

And so I think that in many ways, the new testing – but like I said, it’s based on the common core – is really trying to address some of that, and really trying to say, this is what you’re going to have to actually do. No job, no faculty member, and frankly, most high school teachers and middle school teachers, even, no longer just want something straight from the text.

As I say to my students, if I wanted to know what was in the book, I would read the book myself. The reason why we’re having a conversation is because you’re using the text to actually – as a – as sort of a handbook, if you will, to apply to various different situations. We’re looking for – employers are looking for students straight out of high school, often, and also, too, out of college, who have ability to adapt, have a sort of mental alacrity that requires a particular level of persistence that we haven’t been seeing in a lot of our students.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. Thank you. A question from Luis from Washington, DC, about what resources are available for community organizations looking to educate families about the assessments. You talked earlier about some of the efforts the district – your districts have made to inform parents, but are there efforts aimed at community organizations, particularly those that deal with Spanish-speaking populations? Anitra, have there been any efforts in your community?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Yes. As mentioned earlier in this call today, there are parent forums as well as school nights held at the school for parents within the various communities, and then part of the district’s communication I would say this year as well as – well, just the last two years, has definitely centered on informing our parents, providing lots of information in different ways, as well as inviting questions from parents and various community members.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Marti, have there been outreach to community organizations in different languages?

Marti Shirley:    That’s not probably a big concern in our area, as we don’t have a whole lot of diversity in terms of language barriers. But I know that we have taken the materials and we do have copies translated in Spanish and in other languages, and if those parents come in, we have members of the staff who can directly answer their questions and speak with them. 

But I would say primarily within our community, parents and community members come straight to the source. We are a very open community, and we have parents involved in our school board and in our curriculum committees. And pretty much on any important committee we have, our parents are involved, and so they’re also getting the word out. And our Facebook groups are getting the word out. So we almost have over-communication with our parents at times, and that’s a great thing to be able to say.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. We have a question from Susan from Washington, DC, about students with disabilities. From your experience, how did students with disabilities perform on the assessments, and are there some lessons we can learn about their performance and also the – what are the likely results for other underserved populations? Anitra?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Yes, so students with disabilities participate on state assessments as outlined in their individualized education plan, so it varies, depending on the type of disability. In regards to the question about underserved populations, as the date continues to come in, we’ll look at the disaggregated results as far as the state is concerned. However, at my own personal school, Rainier View Elementary, which serves a large group of minority students, their performance was actually high in comparison with state averages and the district averages. But as a state, we’ll continue to look at the different populations and make adjustments this year as needed.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Marti, do you have any information about performance of students with disabilities?

Marti Shirley:    Well, I would just add kind of similar things in terms of I think we’re going to see similar performances in terms of our students with disabilities and our underserved populations that we’ve seen with other standardized testing. I know that within students who have disabilities, our special ed department is already looking at ways to make it more accessible to those students, because it is a lot more rigorous than it’s been in the past, which makes it an even greater challenge for some of those students to overcome. 

So our students with disabilities, those are the ones I’m more concerned with trying to figure out how to prepare them and how to help them, whereas our underserved populations, they are performing better than they have in the past, and that’s just a continual effort, I believe, to encourage them to be more involved and engaged in their own learning.

Bob Rothman:    And maybe if I could follow up with Lorretta, do you see that kind of performance translating into higher enrollment rates for disadvantaged groups in higher education?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I think what – hopefully what it will do is it’ll help – it’ll help us on our end also address the achievement gap that we have in higher ed. You know, students in lower performing districts, also students from districts in poverty, they – hard workers, but they often start out behind because they have not had the resources that other students from other different – from other communities have. 

And so part of the hope is that some of the assessment tools will help teachers and help communities get resources, but also be able to target the kinds of skills that these students struggle with, and they won’t come to college with that particular disadvantage. But I think that’s true for all students, that the goal is that you have students who are admitted to college, will not need any remediation, for example. They can start right away in credit bearing courses. And I think that’s the goal for all of the students. 

But I do think that some of the assessments would actually be helpful to teachers in helping them address some of those gaps themselves.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. All right. Thank you. And a question from Claudia from Medway, Massachusetts. She asks about the interim assessments used as diagnostic tools. We’ve been talking about the end of year assessments, but there are other tools that PARCC and Smarter Balance have made available to support teachers throughout the year. Anitra, have your teachers been using those?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    Yes. The Digital Library is a favorite as part of the Smarter Balance resources for teachers, as well as interim assessments, so the practice test has also been a great resource as we transition, just to calibrate our level of understanding of what performance levels look like in terms of the skill.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Marti, have you and your colleagues been using other materials throughout the year?

Marti Shirley:    I don’t know that I could answer that specifically in terms of what you’re looking at, but I would say we’ve been using the materials that are out there and that are provided, and looking at PARCC’s resources, looking at the resources throughout our own state. But a lot of resources that we’ve been using have come from other educators or ourselves, based on what we know is coming.

Bob Rothman:    Mm-hmm. Okay. Well, thank you. Well, we’re getting near the close now. I just wanted to give you all a chance to have one final comment, if there’s anything we didn’t discuss today. Lorretta, do you want to – do you have any final comments?

Lorretta Holloway:    Well, I think that the overall goal for I think both tests is to really give teachers, students, families, a real – a better gauge of if whether or not students are ready to move on, and give them materials – those interim assessments, for example, to really be able to use, to look at how do we improve education for the students that we have right now, as opposed to just taking a snapshot and be able to comment on them afterwards? 

And from my perspective, really focusing obviously on the 11th grade test, is that it really is not just or merely this college readiness test, but it really should be a college planning test. There’s this idea of what do I look – I look at the score, and what does it tell me about myself as a student? What is this score telling me about my students, if I’m a teacher, to make a plan for what we – what the teacher, those students should be doing in the coming year to prepare and to be ready. 

It’s interesting to me that – what I’m hoping to come out of some of this conversation is what does senior year – what should senior year look like? Everybody who teaches high school knows that once those applications are in, often students feel like – as though they can slack off. and what I tell students when I go to talk about college readiness, is I say that would be exactly as if you found out that you got accepted to an Olympic team, and then as soon as you got put on the national team to compete in the Olympics, you stopped practicing and just waited for the Olympics to show up, when there’s literally probably six months in between.

No, what usually they do is they ratchet it up. They start really training. They start changing routines to really think about what’s in the future, because they’ve taken an assessment of what they can do now, and then what they’re going to have to do in the future. And I’m hoping that that’s what these tests do for students, parents, and teachers.

Bob Rothman:    Great. Thank you. Anitra, anything you wanted to add?

A. Pinchback-Jones:    It’s just exciting times for the shifts within the state. I agree with the previous comments, but I’m also excited for the consistent guidelines that we will have for what students should know and be able to do at every grade level. And I think when we look at, for instance, this year in 2015, I think the – one of the latest data points was over seven million students took the – or more than seven million students took the assessment. And so this is going to be a great time for families to know where they are on the college planning – or where they are with college planning preparation.

Bob Rothman:    Great. Thank you. Marti, anything you wanted to add?

Marti Shirley:    Well, I’ll be honest in saying before this summer, working more in depth with the PARCC, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the new change in testing. But I would say that now, I am probably the biggest proponent of it I know, because regardless of the actual test scores right now, as they’re very new, they’re very unknown what they really mean in terms of long term validity, but the shift in questioning is pushing our students to a new level, which is just exciting. It is just the best thing that could happen to them, because it’s taking them out of their comfort zone. 

And in real life, they’re not just going to need to know routine skills. They’re going to need to know the application. And PARCC is really forcing kids and forcing teachers to prepare them to be able to reason and model. And math is such a great tool to teach students these skills that they’re going to need for careers, for college, for everything, that I’m just so ready to see what the results are, and to keep moving forward with this, and to have the ability to change our practices within our department, and just see them change without – throughout the students, because I think we’re going to see a new crop of students come out of this that are better prepared and also more articulate throughout all disciplines. So as said, it’s an exciting time to be in education.

Bob Rothman:    Great. Well, thank you very much. That’s very well said. And we could continue on this for many more hours, but our time on the set is up. There were some questions that we didn’t get to, and we’ll try to keep you posted on how we’ll get more questions answered and make others materials available on our website, Excuse me. 

I want to thank the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for making this webinar possible, and thank especially Lorretta Holloway, Anitra Pinchback-Jones, and Marti Shirley, for this informative and thought-provoking discussion. For the Alliance for Excellent Education, thank you very much for joining us.


[End of Audio]

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One Comment

  1. photo
    Posted 6 years ago

    Given this is the first year of the Common Core assessments, there have been disucssion that students are expected to do less well than on previous state assessments. Given this is the basline year, how is such a judgment made?

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