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Why embracing PARCC is an act of boldly leading the nation in the right direction

The State Board of Education allocated special time today to discuss and vote on whether to encourage the State Legislature to reverse their 2012 decision requiring the Colorado Department of Education to adopt one of the two national multi-state assessment consortia. This follows last month’s surprising political move in which Chair Lundeen argued that Colorado should discontinue its participation in PARCC, and declared that he intended to bring his recommendation to a vote. It should come as no surprise that today’s vote passed along party lines.

I voted against Mr. Lundeen’s motion and in support of Colorado’s continued participation in PARCC for the following reasons:

 1. Colorado students deserve uniform standards

In our highly mobile society, students and their families need to know that if they move from Colorado to Massachusetts, they will not skip a beat in their learning progression. State academic standards have existed in K-12 schools across the country for almost two decades. It became evident that 50 states with 50 different sets of academic standards in English Language Arts or Math were not in the best interests of the students who eventually will need to compete for jobs nationally. And furthermore, in a global economy our students must also compete internationally. Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the 2012 PISA results that show in the area of problem solving skills, our students were outperformed by Singapore, Korea, Japan, Canada, Finland, Australia, and other nations.  Notably, all of the nations that outperformed students from the United States have uniform national standards.

2. Colorado students and educators need performance measures that allow students to compare their progress with peers in other states.

How does a parent of an eighth grader know how his or her child is performing compared to other students across the nation if we are not using the same assessments? The PARCC tests are a tool to compare progress in attaining standards among students across the country. Several states with high academic standards and strong student performance have joined PARCC, so there is no reason to believe that the PARCC assessments would be less rigorous than those developed in Colorado..

3. Level the playing field for higher education admission

Colorado’s new higher education admissions and remediation policies will use students’ scores on PARCC for both course placement and admission purposes. This gives students a stake in their state assessment results and provides another data point for our colleges and universities admissions offices as they assess students’ readiness for college. Also, the multi-state aspect of PARCC provides another basis for comparing Colorado students to their peers.  PARCC is based on the Common Core State Standards adopted by Colorado and 44 other states, making the comparative breadth and depth of the test results far superior in cost-savings and rigor in comparison to any state-developed test.

4. Colorado has been a leader in the development of the PARCC assessments

Colorado is an active member of PARCC. Over 50 Colorado educators from our higher education and K-12 systems are involved in a range of assessment design and review committees. Commissioner of Education Hammond serves as a member of the key decision-making body of PARCC, and more than 100 Colorado school districts are participating in field-testing the PARCC’s new online assessments which will be administered in Spring 2015. Why would we seek to start over, and throw away the work we’ve already done?

Concerns about participation in PARCC have legitimately centered  over–testing but the recommendation to pull out of PARRC is extreme.  We have heard loud and clear from parents and teachers across the state about their frustration with the amount of testing. Both Commissioner Hammond and the Colorado Legislature are studying the issues, reviewing recommendations, and weighing options about how to streamline the important work of monitoring student achievement.  Dissolving our connection to the PARRC process would not solve the issue, and a statewide assessment is still required by state statute.

Other concerns that PARRC reflects federal intrusion in state education are unfounded. The consortia is a voluntary partnership of states working together to develop a set of assessments to determine whether their students are on track for college and career. Although federal funding is available for this program development, this can hardly be considered federal intrusion. When Colorado receives federal dollars to fight wildfires, do we call that federal intrusion?

Colorado has made some bold changes in public education. I urge Coloradans to continue to be bold and lead the nation by embracing the rigorous PARCC assessments for the sake of our children’s future. 

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