By Timothy Shanahan
I recently received the following from a teacher:
I am a 4th grade math teacher, and I love CC standards. I’ve been teaching to them and my students are making HUGE gains in math. My question is about PARCC. I have looked online at the protocol questions and cannot figure out what students will really be expected to do. It looks like they will need to cut, paste, and type. My fear is that the online component of the test is going to skew the results and students will be unnecessarily frustrated trying to show their thinking using “tools”. It seems the test is automatically biased towards wealthier schools with more technology, technology teachers, and parents that buy technology for the children as “toys”. How can we be sure that PARCC is assessing their reading and math, not their technology skills? Also, how can we help prepare our students for the types of technology skills they will be required to perform with PARCC?
Like you, I’m nervous about the technology of the new tests. We’re in a tech revolution, and yet, I don’t see as much of that technology in schools as is widely presumed. Even schools that have lots of iPads or computers often don’t have the bandwidth needed or the onsite tech support. There are definitely home and school disparities when it comes to tech availability.
Another issue has to do with whether tech is really necessary—in an academic sense—in the testing. Looking at the available prototypes for the tests, I would say yes and no. For example, students have traditionally marked answers on tests and worksheets simply by checking off an item or filling in a bubble grid; nothing particularly academic in those skills. The new assessments will have them doing “drag-and-drop” and the like instead. Is that really an advance?
But there are items in which students must access webpages and identify sentences in text, and of course, there is writing and revising with these tools. All of these examples seem, to me, to be authentic academic tasks. There is nothing wrong with drag-and-drop items, but if they weren’t there, the assessments would tell us pretty much the same thing. That’s not true of these other skills. In all of these latter cases, students are asked to negotiate tasks that are common in college and the workplace, and as such kids should be able to handle them.
I suspect when the feds required that these new tests be tech-based, they thought NCLB would be reauthorized. That might have allowed the federal government to incent school districts to upgrade their technology. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Many schools are now scrambling to upgrade their technology (often these efforts seem aimed only at the test—one hopes they’ll soon figure out that they have to use these for instruction as well).
In any event, your question is a good one. It is that the technology disadvantage of some kids will affect performance. That could mean that kids who, though they can read well, may score poorly because of unfamiliarity with keyboards, data screens, etc. That might not be misleading, however. Reading in the 21st century is more than reading a book or magazine; it really does require critical reading of multiple texts available on the Internet; just like writing does usually involve typing on a computer or other device. Monitoring whether our kids can do these tasks successfully is appropriate. The side benefit of that, one hopes, is that schools will move more quickly to making such tools more widely available.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
Tim Shanahan is a member of CDL’s Professional Advisory Board.