Changes planned to boost PARCC scores



— A month after re­ceiv­ing a dis­ap­point­ing round of re­sults for the sec­ond year of the new state­man­dated tests, Ce­cil County Pub­lic Schools of­fi­cials are mak­ing a host of changes in hopes of im­prov­ing next year’s scores.

While county stu­dents did make mod­est gains over the first year of the Part­ner­ship for As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reer (PARCC) tests, they still lagged be­hind the state av­er­age in vir­tu­ally ev­ery grade. On Mon­day night, Jeff Law­son, CCPS as­so­ci­ate su­per­in­ten­dent for ed­u­ca­tion services, pre­sented the county’s re­sult to the school board and out­lined a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ac­tions the sys­tem is tak­ing to im­prove scores.

Those ac­tions in­clude an over­haul of both the el­e­men­tary school math and lan­guage arts cur­ricu­lum, a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of the sys­tem’s cur­rent sec­ondary lan­guage arts cur­ricu­lum and the ad­di­tion of re­visit pe­ri­ods in all high schools and mid­dle schools, Law­son said.

“We know we have some ar­eas to im­prove,” he said. “This is a very, very rig­or­ous test. One thing we’ve learned from PARCC is they can make a tough test and it’s


just a com­plete cul­ture shift for many of our stu­dents.”

Over­all, math was a strength for the sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly sec­ondary math, which Law­son at­trib­uted to the work of Michael Fell, the sys­tem’s in­struc­tional co­or­di­na­tor for sec­ondary math­e­mat­ics. Fell has also been a writer for PARCC ques­tions for the past four or five years, which means the sec­ondary math teach­ers have a very good idea of what’s ex­pected of them on the tests, Law­son said.

But lan­guage arts con­tin­ues to be an area of weak­ness sys­tem-wide, Law­son said.

“If you look at grades three through 10, and there’s maybe 8,000 or 9,000 stu­dents, math is con­sis­tently out­per­form­ing lan­guage arts. So that’s not just a blip. That’s not one group of 10th graders who hap­pens to be good or bad. That’s a sys­tem is­sue that we’re look­ing at very closely right now,” he said.

CCPS is hope­ful that the new Book­worms reading cur­ricu­lum, which was launched in el­e­men­tary schools this year and fo­cuses on “real” books over an­tholo­gies, will help im­prove scores. Sim­i­larly, the sys­tem also started a new el­e­men­tary math cur­ricu­lum called En­Vi­sions this year. Both these cur­ricu­lums align much bet­ter with PARCC, Law­son said, and both were much less ex­pen­sive than other cur­ricu­lum out there.

On the sec­ondary level, CCPS has cre­ated a Sec­ondary Lan­guage Arts Cadre to ex­am­ine the cur­rent cur­ricu­lum and to look into de­vel­op­ing a new cur­ricu­lum mod­eled on the el­e­men­tary school Book­worms cur­ricu­lum, Law­son said.

CCPS also plans to have a re­visit pe­riod sched­uled in all mid­dle and high schools and ad­min­is­tra­tors are also hope­ful that the new A-B block sched­ule will im­prove scores. After the sched­ule was pi­loted at Per­ryville High School last year, PARCC scores jumped nearly 20 per­cent­age points in reading and 6 per­cent­age points in math, Law­son noted.

“We’ve got our fin­gers crossed that that’s linked to the A-B block (sched­ule),” he said. “We’re op­ti­mistic that the year long ex­po­sure to the lan­guage arts and math for all high school stu­dents will pay off in our test scores.”

Sev­eral mem­bers of the school board though ex­pressed con­cerns not nec­es­sar­ily with the sys­tem’s scores but with the PARCC test in gen­eral. Board mem­ber Lau­ren Cam­phausen said she wor­ries about the “en­trenched is­sues” with PARCC and won­dered if CCPS was do­ing it­self a dis­ser­vice by chang­ing its cur­ricu­lum and teach­ing stu­dents skills that will help them suc­ceed on PARCC, but might not ben­e­fit them in the long run.

Cam­phausen ques­tioned whether the PARCC re­sults were align­ing with what ad­min­is­tra­tors are see­ing on county tests as well as on the new SAT.

School board pres­i­dent Dawn Branch agreed and echoed Cam­phausen’s con­cerns about PARCC’s flaws.

“I worry that PARCC is test­ing what they don’t know ver­sus what they’ve learned and what they do know,” she said. “I’m afraid that it tries to trick them along the way and that I am not a fan of.”

Law­son re­sponded that while the data still needs to be ex­am­ined, he sus­pects PARCC re­sults will cor­re­late with both county tests and with the new SAT. If that turns out to be true, then CCPS needs to start pay­ing at­ten­tion to PARCC, he said.

“The jury’s out now, but I think you’re go­ing to see a pretty strong cor­re­la­tion,” he said.

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