PARCC AAF Workgroup Reflections

PARCC = Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
AAF = Accessibility, Accommodations, and Fairness.

On Monday, February 23, 2015, I had the honor of being invited to take part in a workgroup with educators from members of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  The purpose of this workgroup was to assemble information and lay out an “Educators Guide” to the PARCC Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual.  That manual describes the rationale for, and the function of, certain features that are built into the online assessment platform.

I was part of a group charged with (among other things) developing a presentation containing information that would be most applicable for educators who work with students with disabilities.  My colleague from Ohio, Ron Rogers (Ron’s blog, Ron’s Twitter) of OCALI, was part of a similar group focusing on developing similar materials for educators in their work with all students.

A brainstorming session resulted in a thoughtful list of ideas, categories, and points of emphasis.  They also meandered in several directions, as brainstorming sessions often do.  The expertise of the representatives around the table was clearly evident, and it would take some expert facilitation skill to bring the cacophony of ideas into a unified message.

Here are the important points that percolated to the top:

– Accessibility features and accommodations do not reduce learning expectations for students with disabilities.

– Students with disabilities are expected to participate in the assessments, but expectation is not enough.  Accessibility features and accommodations also enable a wider range of students to participate in assessments than is possible with paper-and-pencil assessments.

– Accessibility starts with “access”.  All the accessibility features and accommodations in the world may be available on an assessment, but they will have no effect if access is not provided in the regular learning environment.

When are teachers supposed to take time out of their instruction to teach kids how to operate the technology for the assessments?  They’re not.  The types of accessibility features included in the assessment are precisely the same type of accessibility features that can be used to aid learning the material.  We haven’t done our students any favors if we have them take online assessments after spending their school year doing paper worksheets.

This isn’t about teaching to a test.  It’s about teaching students, with a framework of standards as a guide.  What’s the difference?  It’s the difference between helping me learn how to read, and helping me learn how to pass a reading test.

On a personal note, I have a daughter who has been diagnosed with Autism.  Right now, I have very little confidence that this assessment will provide her a good opportunity to exhibit her mastery of skills and concepts she learns.  I have no doubt of her capability to grasp the standards.  I just don’t know whether she will have the willingness to participate in the online assessment when and where the school expects her to.  This is not anything that is broken about her, it is something that is broken in the current assessment system that relies on a moment-in-time analysis of performance.

But, I can’t make it better by sitting on the outside and whining about it.  I can hope to make it better by rolling up my sleeves and collaborating with some great minds. I’m optimistic about the guide material that will be produced as a result of our work.  I know the system is not perfect, but every step that gets us closer to an entire education system – goals, materials, methods, and assessments – that is truly Universally Designed and refuses to exclude any student due to their disability is a positive step worth taking.

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