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Boasberg: DPS will stick with PARCC, but tests should be shorter

DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg reads with a student at an event called Power Lunch.
DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg reads with a student at an event called Power Lunch.
J. Zubrzycki

Denver Public Schools plans to administer the PARCC assessment in reading and math this spring as planned, even if the state permits districts to back out, superintendent Tom Boasberg said on Thursday.

Boasberg told Chalkbeat, however, that Colorado’s testing program, which includes the PARCC tests and other subject-matter exams, could use some trimming.

Boasberg is not alone in his concern. Colorado’s testing system is expected to be hotly debated by state lawmakers this legislative session. A task force created by the legislature will make recommendations about testing to lawmakers by the end of the month. Students in Boulder led protests last fall about overtesting, and a vocal group around the state has backed a movement to “opt out” of standardized tests.

The state board of education made waves Thursday by voting allow to school districts to choose not to administer PARCC this spring. That vote may or may not actually have any practical effect.

Boasberg said that while DPS plans to administer the assessment this year, “I think the PARCC assessments need to be shorter. I’ve been vocal about that with [U.S. Department of Education] Secretary Arne Duncan and the head of the PARCC consortium.”

“I want to see a significant reduction in testing time,” he said. “Overall, the volume of testing is too much. There are tests, like the 12th grade tests or tests for kindergarten, that don’t make sense. It’s well-intentioned but they take up way to much time.”

He said that test-makers face conflicting demands: “On the one hand you have folks who don’t like tests saying, we hate fill-in-the-bubble tests, we want something that’s got more writing, that’s really an indication of deeper student learning. But often the same people say the tests are way too long.”

His ideal? “I don’t see why they can’t be a total of three or four hours per year, seeing what progress our kids have been making against the standards,” he said. “We may not be able to have all the levels of sophistication that some folks want, but I think that could give teachers a good indication of where students are.”

“I do think there’s a real value in having a benchmark each year of how kids are doing,” he said.

He said that some concerns about the assessments—for instance, that the questions and format on the computer-based test can be difficult for kids to navigate—have been overblown. “Sometimes the kids are farther ahead than the teachers.”

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