The Tucson Unified School District is looking to spend more than $2.2 million to prepare for a new online assessment being piloted by the state that may never be used.
The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test, created by Pearson, an education services company, will be tested in the spring as an option to replace the AIMS — but it may not be the final version of the test that Arizona students will take moving forward.
“The PARCC assessment may be too expensive and the state may not go with it,” said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. “We’ve done all of this preparation for this rendition of the test without knowing what the test will be. As with anything, there’s not a lot of clarity.”
The test, designed to be in alignment with Common Core standards, requires updated technology equipment — something TUSD has long struggled with. As a result, the district will ask the Governing Board on Tuesday to approve the use of grant funds to buy 583 desktop computers, 1,715 laptop computers, 57 mobile computer carts, Microsoft Office software and 2,300 headsets.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Education is still seeking proposals from test makers to identify what assessment it will put before the Legislature for purchase, leaving school district superintendents feeling apprehensive about the future.
In addition to TUSD, the Catalina Foothills, Sahuarita and Marana school districts have expressed concerns about whether what they have been teaching will align with the yet-to-be determined test or if the investment in technology will matter, should the state elect to go with an assessment that requires nothing more than a pencil and paper.
In Marana, most teachers embrace the new Common Core standards, which are described as being more robust than what has been required at the state level, said Superintendent Doug Wilson.
“The biggest frustration is the accountability piece: Does the assessment line up to what we’re teaching?” he said. “There’s still some apprehension because there is so much uncertainty.”
The timing of the pilot test is also a sore subject, as it is currently scheduled to be offered two weeks before AIMS, which is a graduation requirement. Concerned that students may experience test fatigue by the time they get to AIMS, a group of superintendents is lobbying to have the pilot test pushed back.
Test value questioned
For Sanchez, once a test is selected, there is a question of how much weight the test should carry.
Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal believes the new assessment will help evaluate the effectiveness of schools. Sanchez notes that assumes the test will align with what students need to be successful in college.
State testing, according to Sanchez, is more of a snapshot of what a student knows on a given day about a given subject.
It identifies information regarding where curriculum and instructional delivery have “stuck” with a student on a set of topics; information regarding where students still have gaps; and key areas to refocus curriculum. It is not a full picture of each learner or a comprehensive representation of the district, he says.
“We should never look at state assessment in a manner that dehumanizes our students, our teachers or our administrators,” he said in a memo to the Governing Board. “I am aware this is what the state holds dear and requires our students to master to graduate. However, we cannot lose ourselves in the state test.”