DeSoto County Schools
Meeting 4 PARCC Educator Leader Cadre
July 16-18 Chicago
For the past two and a half years, I have been a member of the Mississippi PARCC Educator Leader Cadre. This group of passionate educators from across the state of Mississippi is made up of teachers, school level administrators, school district administrators, institutions of higher learning deans and professors, and state level administrators from the Mississippi Department of Education. Each state that is part of the PARCC Consortium sends a cadre to meetings that are held at the Airport Hotel in Chicago. For the first three meetings there were two cohorts, but for this fourth meeting all the states met together. The meetings are full of valuable information as well as learning not only about the Partnership of Assessment for Readiness of College and Careers but also the Common Core State Standards.
Before I go into more detail about this meeting, let me give you a little background about PARCC and the Common Core State Standards. The CCSS was adopted in 2009 at a meeting of governors and chief state school officers as the standards they would like to see all states use. That initial meeting was also held at the Chicago Airport Hotel grand ballroom just as the ELC meetings have been. From this beginning the standards have been adopted by most states as the standards they will use to educate their students. As all educators know, there must be accountability to make sure our students are learning. From this, two consortiums were born to handle the student testing part of the standards. Instead of each state paying for someone to build their assessment system, the states came together to launch the Smarter Balance Consortium and the PARCC Consortium. Mississippi chose to belong to the PARCC Consortium and is a governing state. We have been heavily involved in the shaping of how the consortium will operate. Our Mississippi State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carey Wright, has sat almost from the beginning on the Board for PARCC and meets monthly either in person or by conference call. We also have several Mississippians who have key leadership positions within the PARCC Consortium.
We have all heard how the CCSS and PARCC/Smarter Balance are a federal takeover of the schools. Well, I can tell you with 100% confidence that in no way is that true. I have come to know so many educators from across this nation over the last two plus years and have heard their stories about how they have been involved in the crafting of the PARCC assessment system. Every assessment item that will appear on a state assessment will have had at least thirty educators’ eyes approve them. We have many Mississippi teachers and DeSoto County educators who are a part of this process to ensure a high quality, properly aligned assessment will be produced for our students. Each state has the autonomy to pick and choose which parts of the assessments they will use. In Mississippi we will use the tests for grades 3-8 in math and English language arts, as well as, the end of course tests for Algebra I and Grade 10 English Language Arts. At this time we will not use the formative assessments, midyear assessments, Grade 9 ELA, Geometry, or Algebra II tests. Mississippi will also not use the Grade 11 College and Career Readiness test as we will use the ACT to make that determination. These are just a few of the reasons that I can be so definite that there is no conspiracy to take over the education system by the federal government.
The fourth convening of the PARCC ELC began just as all others have with a general session attended by all ELC members. The Chief Executive Officer for PARCC, Laura Slover, gave us updates on the PARCC work and supplied us with the latest information on the political landscape that has become such a big player in this work. The PARCC assessments will be ready for school year 2014-2015. For our high schools that are on the 4 x 4 block, the first semester tests will be paper and pencil but the second semester will be online. This is a PARCC decision not a state or local one. For our grades 3-8 schools, all tests will be online.
Each day we had state team time where we met as a State ELC to get updates from our State Lead, Nathan Oakley, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for MDE. During this time we also discussed what we had done in our districts with CCSS and what the PARCC Field test experience was like for our districts. One of my biggest takeaways from this was the field test had gone very smoothly for most districts represented in our group. Another was that the state would be releasing a scaffolding document for teachers very soon that looks to be a great document to help teachers understand what students need to learn from each standard. We also spent time discussing what forms of communication seemed to work best in getting the needed information out to stakeholders.
The rest of our day was spent in break out sessions that covered topics from ELA, Math, SPED, CTE, Arts, Technology, and Testing. I focused my attention on sessions that prepared participants for the technology needs of the online testing and the sessions that talked about the testing itself. These sessions were very helpful in that they dove deeper into why the questions are written as they are and how the questions themselves require students to use critical thinking skills in answering. Surely we can all agree that this generation of students will need to be able to think more critically and reason why something may or may not be the best option. I did attend one Math session, as the facilitator was one of our Mississippi ELC members, Deia Sanders, from Simpson County Schools. I must admit that have never been strong in Math. After seeing how our younger students are being taught to develop their math skills, I wish I could go back and sit in the classroom to relearn those skills and concepts. When I see the real world application for math, it just makes so much more sense to me.
Finally, on the last morning, PARCC organized a Gallery walk where we saw examples of some of the work each state had done to prepare its teachers and students for this coming year when the PARCC Assessments will begin. It was interesting to see how so many states that are working towards the same goals had gone about getting to those goals in so many different ways. That again showed me that even though we are all using the same standards, each state, each district, and even each teacher is the determining factor in what level of education each student receives.
This was our final scheduled national meeting for the ELC’s; however, I hope that they can continue on some level. As professionals we can always learn from our peers and seeing the things that my peers have done for students all across this nation confirms my faith in the ability of professional educators to deliver the goods.