In their 2015 piece, Johnson and Richer sought to discover how teachers and students from different Rhode Island communities responded to the last year's PARCC test. The researchers administered a survey in order to "discover how teachers perceived the test and its effects on student learning and well-being, their own teaching, and school climate."
Last year was my first year as a teacher in an under-resourced public high school in Rhode Island, and it was also the first year that my school administered the PARCC test. Although I was not a part of Johnson and Richer's survey, I shared many of the same experiences as those who were.
I find myself at a crossroads in regards to standardized testing.
On one hand, I think standardized testing is a necessary reality in our society. I remember being in a boarding school and working into the early hours of the morning to try and earn a B+ on a paper, when some of my friends at the local public school were doing less rigorous work and earning 4.0 GPAs with ease. This never sat well with me, because it seemed unfair that colleges could look at two different transcripts, and, at least on paper, some of my friends at the local public school looked like much better candidates than I did. For this reason, I was glad that we had standardized testing like the SAT - it "created an equal playing field" if you will.
On the other hand, I am also sympathetic to the MANY problems that standardized testing creates. Because I was the teacher in the classroom, I saw first-hand the achievements and struggles that my students experienced throughout the year. I saw many of my students come to the US for the first time with little to no English ability, and celebrate their progressions in learning a new language. One of my students had not been in formal education since she was 8 years old, yet she was able to grasp concepts from basic multiplication to solving simple equations. Unfortunately, the PARCC test did not capture these stories. My students were given scores on a number scale - and, in almost all cases, they were labeled as failures. Many of my students struggled with the long math passages, the computer usage, and the pressure of it. As a teacher, I felt horrible that my students were not up to the standards that the PARCC wanted them to be at. This is not to say that there was not real teaching and learning going on during the year, but again, the PARCC test did not reflect this.
Ideally, teachers - the people who are in the classroom - should be the ultimate evaluaters of their students. There are many educators, including Johnson and Richer, that support this idea. In an ideal world, I would as well. We as educators can evaluate our students' abilities better than any standardized test ever could. My only concern with this notion is that there is no way to account for differences in opinions, standards of success, and biases (not that our current system isn't bias already!). For instance, I currently have a senior in my freshman Algebra I, and he recently asked me to write his college recommendation letter. For lack of better words, this student has not been the "ideal" student - he often does not do her homework, he often comes to class with an attitude, and he has struggled on assessments. Still, I find myself almost obligated (perhaps because this is my first college rec!) to "fudge" a bit when I describe this student in my letter. If I am having these thoughts, who is to say that other teachers don't as well?