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PARCC leaders bullish on field test results, short on details

Officials of the PARCC testing consortium told reporters Thursday that spring field tests of language arts and math went well — but they offered few details because they still are analyzing the results.

“We learned a lot,” said Laura Slover, CEO of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. “Things are going very well.”

She also noted, “We said there might be glitches; in fact there were a few glitches,” primarily easily fixed technical ones.

Colorado participated in the field tests and is scheduled to administer the PARCC assessments in grades three through 11 next spring, replacing the TCAP testing system. (Get details here.)

Nationwide, sample tests were given this spring to about 1 million students in 16,000 schools in 14 states and the District of Columbia, said Jeffrey Nellhaus, PARCC director of policy, research and design during a conference call with reporters.

More than 10,000 different questions – “items” as they’re called in assessment jargon – on 21 different tests were used. About three-quarters of the tests were given on computer and a quarter on paper.

“The purpose of the field test was to test the test questions,” Nellhaus said, not to determine student proficiency.

But because PARCC experts are still compiling and evaluating the results, they don’t yet have detailed answers about how those questions performed.

Among things that need to be analyzed are the validity, reliability and fairness of test questions and whether students performed differently depending on whether they took the tests on computers or paper and depending on what kind of electronic devices they used. PARCC also still needs to compile the results and teacher and student surveys.

Slover noted that every question went through five reviews before being used, so she’s confident about their reliability and validity. “In the fall we’ll know whether that is true.”

Nellhaus said the field testing did reveal that test administration manuals need streamlining, some student directions need clarification and that some online tools like a math equation editor need improvements. “There are some things that need to be perfected.”

PARCC is in the middle of the growing national debate over the Common Core Standards, multi-state testing and education centralization.

On Wednesday Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced plans to pull his state out of the standards and PARCC, a moved opposed by the state’s commissioner of education, state board and some legislators (more details here).

Slover chose her words carefully when asked about that, saying, “We’re committed to proceeding under the memorandum of understanding that is in existence” with Louisiana.

She was equally cautious when asked about a PARCC-related contract dispute in New Mexico.

Officials in that state are negotiating a testing contract on behalf of all PARCC states. The process was challenged by the testing company American Institutes for Research, which claimed the specifications were tailored for the Pearson testing group.

New Mexico officials tossed out AIR’s appeal, but a judge in Santa Fe ruled last month that the state has to consider the protest. (Get more details in this EdWeek story.)

Slover Thursday said “anything that slows down the process” could be a concern but that “We’re confident the process was fair and open” and will be resolved.

Testing concerns started bubbling up in Colorado earlier this year, with both Republican legislators and the Colorado Education Association raising criticisms of PARCC. The debate is expected to resume later this summer, when a 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force created by the legislature will begin its work (background here).