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Thursday, March 12, 2015

PARCC Practice Test Reflections

Today I gave my twenty-two fifth graders the PARCC practice test.  We were all a bit anxious because we had not given or taken the test before.

Fortunately our school administration put in a lot of time upfront to make sure the technology was all set, test support was in place, teacher trainings were held, and multiple informal conversations at PLC also occurred.

Technology
Our computers worked well for the most part. There was one minor glitch on my computer which the tech staff is looking into, and there were a few steps in the process I had to learn better for test delivery ease and accuracy. Students had no problem logging in and getting started.

Test Support Materials and Classroom Set-Up
I stretched out the desks quite a bit, but I want to stretch them out even more to give students ample space to work and to give me ample space to get around and troubleshoot with any computer glitches that may occur.

I xeroxed and stapled a packet of scrap paper including graph paper, lined paper, and plain paper. That served the students well for the most part, however, a few students would have profited from some large square paper.

I want students to have their books ready to read in case they finish the test early, and I want to work on the timing aspect of the test with regard to everyone starting at the same time. I think I'll clip their test tickets to their scrap paper packet to support that.

Also, laptops need to be charged, pencils sharpened, headphones ready, and the classroom quiet and clean for best work.

Content Issues
There were some questions that many students had. Since it was the practice test, I could talk with them about content issues.

One issue was a coordinate grid where they had to infer what the x and y categories were. Many had trouble making that inference as they are used to using graphs where the axes are labeled.

Other issues related to whether the answer had to be simplified and do you consider a mixed number a fraction. I looked that up and found that a mixed number can be considered a mixed fraction. The question called for a fraction answer so that was confusing.  What do you think?

A word that confused students was "combined" as I haven't used that much.

Students also need more rehearsal with fraction computation, the area model, and volume.

Time
I gave students more time to complete the practice test than the test allows, yet only a few finished. I anticipate frustration by several students with regard to the time factor as many won't be able to finish. It takes young children a lot of time to calculate, read, problem solve, and check their work. Although they've had a lot of math this year, I still don't think they're ready to complete tests at this length with the time allotted, but perhaps I'll be surprised. Let's see.

Preparation for the Tests
The tests take up eight mornings. To prepare well I'll have to come in early to make sure the computers are ready, the room set up, and the materials at-hand.

I'll need to have sharpened pencils, extra scrap paper packets, large square scrap, erasers, and a few extra headphones on hand.

We'll also have to make extra sure that we clean up the room, take down all content posters, and relay a "do your best" strategy.

Challenge
With eight PARCC mornings the challenge is going to be to keep students' self confidence strong. These tests are not fun for many students, and for some the tests present a very difficult challenge. The other challenge is going to be the challenge of keeping the regular, learning program going with so many interruptions in the schedule due to shared teaching/tool resources and the fact that our usual routine of learning will be interrupted by lost time, time for the tests.

I'll meet that challenge in ways I've mentioned previously which are to complement the serious, quiet test taking with hands-on, engaging activities such as the marble maze simple machine project. My colleague who teaches ELA is doing the same thing by employing a student-centered, heart-ful ELA project.

It helps to take the practice test and assess student/teacher needs right afterwards so that teachers can prepare students well for the tests, and so that students can do the best possible on these tests.  If you have other reflections related to these tests and student confidence and success, please share.