PARCC testing window worries some Md. schools

The chief information officer for Maryland’s second-largest school district said he’s concerned about being able to have all 90,000 students in the district who will take new standardized tests this spring will be able to complete the tests in the short window provided by the state, the Washington Post reports.

Like every school in about 11 states and the District of Columbia, schools in Prince George’s County will administer tests from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, this spring as part of their compliance with the federal law known as No Child Left Behind. The tests from PARCC purport to measure students’ progress on the learning standards found in the Common Core State Standards.

“Our biggest concern is our ability to support 208 sites during the PARCC assessment’s two 20-day windows,” the Post quoted Watts as saying during an update on technology in the schools. “We’re working on plans.” But, “if there is an issue, being able to get to that issue, fix it, and contain it, that’s the biggest challenge.”

Although the schools have administered standardized tests to every student under NCLB for a half dozen years, the scale of online testing with the PARCC tests is a bit greater. First, PARCC tests are given twice a year, once for what is known as the “Performance Based Assessment,” or PBA, after about 75 percent of the school year has been completed, and once again after about 90 percent of the school year has been completed. That test is called the “End Of Year,” or EOY, assessment.

“We’re scaling up to a much larger population that will be doing this online,” Mr Watts said. And during the trial run, or field test, which was given last spring, a few computer labs went down and some students couldn’t even log in to take the tests. And the field test had only 25,000 students taking the test; 90,000 simultaneous test takers are expected in the district this spring.

School board Chairman Segun C Eubanks was quoted as saying, “Every school has to be on target, and we can’t make any mistakes.”

PARCC is “going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Watts concluded.

And he’s right.

Here’s the math problem they’re looking at: They have 90,000 students in 208 schools. If they all take the PARCC tests online, how many online tests will that be?

  • English PBA has 3 sessions, Math PBA has 2
  • English EOY has 2 sessions, Math EOY has 2
  • 90,000 × [(3 + 2) + (2 + 2)] = 810,000 test sessions this spring
  • 810,000 sessions ÷ 208 schools = 3,895 sessions/school

Because of the duration of the PARCC tests, much longer than Maryland’s old MSA and HSA were, it isn’t practical to schedule more than two sessions in any computer lab or classroom in a given day.

Add to this huge scale the fact that the testing window, in many schools, will be interrupted by spring break schedules and other holidays.

A mitigating factor, as PARCC points out, is that although the testing window at each school may span 20 days, no student will test for all 20 days. Each individual student, depending on the grade level, will have only five to nine days of testing, which is still a lot, in my opinion, but as a man of science, I feel it’s my responsibility to report what is actually happening, not what should be happening.

They’re gonna have to do some cipherin’.

How could you compute the number of computers and the bandwidth needed at your school if every student were to take the PARCC tests online this spring? See Common Core math standard HSN.Q.A.2 for more information. Resource:

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.