Teachers Share Views of PARCC and Smarter Balanced Tests

By Catherine Gewertz — November 17, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A small but elite group of teachers has concluded that the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests are better than the tests that four states used previously.

That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. The organization asked 23 teachers who had been State Teachers of the Year, or finalists for that honor, to compare the 5th grade PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests to the assessments that were used in four states before the switch.

The 23 teachers who participated in the study hailed from 14 states, including, but not limited to, those whose tests were being examined. Eleven teachers judged the PARCC exam compared with two states that had switched to that test in 2015: New Jersey and Illinois. Twelve teachers compared Smarter Balanced tests with those in use in New Hampshire and Delaware before they switched to Smarter Balanced in 2015.

The teachers focused on five questions, and their observations are documented in the report, called “The Right Trajectory.” By and large, they found that the consortium tests did a better job of reflecting a range desired skills and knowledge, and maintaining the right pitch of cognitive complexity, than the four states’ previous tests. They said that the new tests better support good teaching, and provide good feedback to a variety of audiences, than did the states’ former tests. And they said that the new tests are age-appropriate as well as academically demanding.

Interestingly, though, on some of those questions, states’ old tests gave PARCC or Smarter Balanced a run for their money. Take a look at the results of teachers’ analysis when they were asked how well the tests do in gauging a range of student skills. You’ll see that New Jersey’s previous test, the NJASK, does as well as PARCC.

But the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests were deemed to be far more valuable than states’ previous tests in offering information that would help teachers distinguish between higher and mid-range performers, and between mid-range and lower performers. They got better marks, too (with the exception of NJASK, which got high ratings) on reflecting a deeper level of content than states’ previous tests.

A survey of 1,280 Oregon teachers’ views on Smarter Balanced produced a much more critical view of that assessment. Released Monday by the Oregon Education Association, which is working with state officials on a possible replacement for Smarter Balanced, the report finds fault with how much classroom time is needed to prepare for the test.

“Due to the test my students lost a week and a half of instruction time in U.S. history,” one teacher said. “We lost a whole unit on [World War II]. I think this is an unacceptable loss for students.”

Smarter Balanced drew flak in the survey for technical glitches, too.

“At times we had computer problems, the computers would freeze, power would go out, the test was in Spanish but needed to be in English,” one teacher said.

Teachers in the survey also raised equity issues with the test, noting, among other things, that children who don’t have computers at home often found themselves at a disadvantage on the test.

The report is full of comments from teachers, and there are hundreds more in a 164-page supplement.

Get Curriculum Matters delivered to your inbox as soon as new posts are published. Sign up here. Also, for analysis of news and policy about testing.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.