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.