PARCC tests disrupt school schedules in Ohio

Now that the PARCC tests have finished, we’re starting to hear rumblings on social media that the tests seriously disrupted schedules and impaired instruction in our schools.

Think about why that happened. The Ohio Department of Education, for example, published guidelines in September telling schools how much time would be required for students to take each unit of certain state-mandated standardized tests, including those from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC.

Excerpt of Ohio Department of Education document, Sept 26, 2014

For PARCC tests, which are administered by Pearson in about 10 states, as well as for Ohio’s science and social studies tests, which are administered by the American Institutes for Research, or AIR, the time required for each session of testing exceeds the typical length of a class period at many schools and doesn’t fit neatly into typical bell schedules.

That means, schools have to reroute schedules not only for kids who are taking the tests but for others whose classes are affected because a certain percentage of students in those classes will have to remain the computer lab to take tests. Possibly, the teachers for those classes will have to remain in the computer lab as they proctor tests. Bus schedules, lunch schedules, and other school activities have to be reconfigured during testing as well.

The document advises that schools “also must plan time for set up, which may vary from school to school.” In other words, the 90 minutes required for the PARCC Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) in English language arts (ELA) for grades 6–8, listed as 90 minutes for part 1, unit 2, shown in the middle of the first column with numbers, actually means more than 90 minutes of scheduled computer lab time.

A typical class period in middle school is 45 to 50 minutes, meaning that, in all likelihood at the majority of Ohio middle schools, three class periods of the day will be affected.

PARCC has taken steps to reduce the overall testing time, as we reported, but that may not help the scheduling of computer labs in schools or the massive adjustments to school schedules that must be undertaken to accommodate testing. And given the number of sessions that have to be scheduled in the computer labs at each school, testing usually lasts for weeks at a time, during which the disruption to the schedule impedes instruction for all students for the entire window, not just for students involved in testing on the days they take the tests.

For the record, the “estimated time on task” is advisory and comes from field test data, the ODE reported. Just because students can be expected to finish early doesn’t mean schools can schedule the computer labs that way. They still have to allow students the specified time, even if most of them spend more than half of that time staring into space.

About the Author

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.