Quit complaining about the PARCC

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LeeAndra Khan

LeeAndra Khan

What is college readiness and how do you get it?

If we know that college readiness leads to access, then we know that readiness is what we need to prepare our students for. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is intended to help us do just that.

The PARCC is designed to tell all of us–schools, principals, teachers, parents and students–what we know and don’t know about whether students are learning, what we are doing well and what we need help with. That’s a good thing, right? So what’s all the fuss about?

We have complained for years about standardized tests not being a true measure of student ability, arguing that these tests are disconnected from the classroom and from how students learn and are traditionally assessed. We have complained that standardized tests don’t predict college persistence and success.

Now we have an assessment that is aligned to the standards that we believe in, the Common Core. This assessment that can help us tailor our instructional programs to best suit our student body and individual students as well.

Achieving standards, not compliance

I am a principal who has moved to standards-based grading. I started the conversation with my faculty by talking about what we see when we open a “grade book.” What does it tell us? Traditionally, it tells us how students are performing in categories like homework, quizzes, projects, exams. As a parent, how does this help me? It doesn’t.

What you end up finding out is that your student has a 90% in homework, a 90% in projects, 65% in quizzes and 70% in exams.  Instead, what if the categories were specific learning standards? Like: “factoring,” “solving equations”, “expressions,” “polynomials,” and “graphing”? Then you would know how well your student is doing on the standards. You could get them the specific help that they need. You would know where to focus. We can then have conversations about teaching and learning instead of compliance and habits.

This is what we hope to learn from the PARCC. We want to know how our students are performing on the standards and how our schools are preparing our students to master skills and standards.

Yes, there are issues with the exam. Schools weren’t ready for it. The exam is different from other assessments we have seen. The technology—the PARCC is administered online—is challenging. The exam is challenging; I took a few practice exams and I had to do some real thinking.

I have read many blogs and op-ed articles, and, more important, I live in Chicago. So I have been bombarded with opinions. What I know, though, is that good instructional planning starts with the exam: Design the assessment first and plan your lessons and tasks with the assessment in mind. While “we,” as principals and teachers, didn’t write the PARCC exam, now that we know how students will be assessed, we can plan accordingly.

Changing classrooms for the better

If you have a quality assessment, you can plan for quality instruction. While many school districts are behind the eight-ball, this is our chance to change what we do for children and how we will address their need to be college ready and therefore have access to college.

For PARCC success and college readiness, the way our classrooms look and function must be different.

We need classrooms where there is authentic student-to student discourse; classrooms where students know the criteria by which they will be assessed; classrooms where students are asked factual, debatable and conceptual questions; classrooms where students can make their thinking visible; classrooms where students ask each other questions; classrooms where students are allowed and encouraged to struggle with new ideas and concepts; classrooms where students think critically, act responsibly, and communicate effectively; classrooms that empower academic risk-takers, thinkers and life-long learners who demonstrate personal resilience, problem-solving skills, and an appreciation of multiple perspectives.

The PARCC exam requires students to have some staying power. It requires grit. It requires students to believe in themselves and what they know.

Coincidentally, this is what college readiness requires.

LeeAndra Khan is the principal of Bronzeville Scholastic Institute.


  • RealityCheck

    As a teacher who also works at a school using Standards Based grading, there are a few points Ms. Khan doesn’t mention: standards based grading, when implemented in a gigantic system like CPS, gives way to grade inflation and a lack of student accountability. It’s a fantastic way for administrators to play the data game. Nor has it improved our ACT scores in any meaningful way. Instead, its lead to student apathy and teacher frustration.

    • LeeAndra

      Thanks to both of you for your comments. RealityCheck, a school must have a shared understanding of what mastery means and looks like. There must be conversations about complexity and accountability with students, teachers and parents. There is another conversation In here about academic mindsets that gets at your statement about grade inflation.

      • JMStamps

        Your assumption is that her response did not take those things into consideration and was not well thought out. Why assume that she did not know such things? Why assume that on a whole that most conversations of the such ARE NOT had and while you purport to have had those conversations maybe she is not the one who needs the reality check. Maybe, just maybe.

    • JMStamps


      Your response lets me know that you get it. So, if you are not one of those who COMPLAIN about PARCC then allow me to COMPLAIN on your behalf. My children will NEVER take PARCC and I dare a principal, CPS or State administrator to try to pass off my concern as trivial such as the principal in this article did.

      • LeeAndra

        Your perspective as a parent is valuable. As a parent I understand that our kids are over tested and the PARCC was one more to the bunch. The roll out in CPS was messy and it caught folks off guard.

        My support of the test is about changing what we do for kids so that they can be successful in their post secondary endeavors. How do we measure how well we are doing that? How do we make changes to classrooms across the country to increase access and equity?

        I’d be interested to see your list of “stupid principals”.
        I just wanted to provide a perspective that is bigger than the test.

  • Dr. Grant Schmidt

    Thank you for your comments, LeeAndra. I agree with your position that standards based grading is necessary in a standards based system. If PARCC is reliable on measuring student knowledge and understanding at the standard level, delineating the standards at the grade level appropriate expectation, the standards based grading system makes sense. I have always been a proponent of engaging in Jr and Sr high school GPA to ACT, GPA to state standardized assessment, and GPA to other reliable assessments is necessary. The correlations provide a check and balance against grade inflation or grade deflation. Coupling PARCC with a reliable grading system that can be considered predictive at an arms length, utilizing progress monitoring assessments strongly correlated and ACT/SAT provides a near daily feedback for students. When students not only know the stable target (ACT/SAT/PARCC/Local Assessment score) but are also frequently informed of their progress towards the goal then the likelihood of changing each student’s trajectory for success if stronger. RealityCheck, I recommend you begin with the GPA correlations which in turn creates a conversation on not only grading but also course curriculum. Shore up the alignment work and see the results. Being a big picture, systems thinker is far removed from the negative connotation of “administrators (playing) the data game.”

  • JMStamps

    I wish I could respond to this intelligently. Actually, I could respond to this intelligently but I choose not to because I now group her into the stupid principals list.

    • Derek Jeffries

      I wonder what qualifies you or anyone else to call someone stupid because you disagree with their opinion. It shows a lack of objectivity, the kind of objectivity we as common sense having adults should already have, and be teaching to our kids. No system rollout or test of any kind has ever gone seamlessly without issues at first. You can’t do things the same way forever and expect different results.

  • Post Adoption

    Ms. Khan, I couldn’t be more in agreement with you about what classroom work needs to look like in ANY school…not just CPS.

    I am a parent with children in CPS. I am not opposed to testing. My children were given every test this year for grades K and 3 (still too many of them, in my opinion) but I did opt my 3rd grader out of the PARCC. They will likely take the PARCC (or its equivalent) in some future year. But this year was not that year. There was not the infrastructure to support this test and I don’t believe the test was really where it needed to be in order to provide a positive testing experiencing for an 8-9 year old child.

    I have one child with an anxiety disorder. And another who is learning to master English (it’s his 3rd language, we are his 4th home.) I debated whether or not to reveal this in such a public forum. But I am doing so because it is MY knowledge as a parent of the needs of my children that trump CPS’ or the state’s or the federal government’s need to check a box that says “100% compliance in test taking.” If our governor or mayor or even our President can’t handle that, I’ll be happy to reconsider my position after they make it mandatory for all of the private schools that they have sent their children through…Latin, U of C Lab, etc…to take all of the standardized tests required by CPS at an equally young age.

    I support common standards though I have reservations about how those determined by the Common Core were created and implemented. I’ve taken the sample PARCC. I have my concerns about the quality of the test questions for primary learners. The PARCC is already too long, too inefficient, and the implementation of it prior to infrastructure support being in place was frankly absurd and unnecessary. The timing of when results are available make it almost useless for teachers in adapting their instruction and differentiation in the classroom to student needs. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem in districts with little to no mobility. But it creates enormous problems now for schools where mobility IS an issue…many schools in CPS fit this description.

    The interactive nature of the test where it requires the students to be presented with problems that they will fail over and over in order to force them onto a distribution scale is developmentally appropriate for students who are OLD ENOUGH and have the emotional maturity to separate this experience from their self-worth (“This is supposed to happen, it is a result of the structure of the test, it does not mean I am stupid.”) This experience is not compatible with many primary grade learners, however. Thus reports of students crying, physically hurting themselves through pulling out their hair, etc. Typing long form responses to questions versus writing them longhand is also not developmentally appropriate for many primary grade learners.

    So, while you may accuse me and others like me of “complaining” too much or imply that my children don’t have enough “grit,” I’m pretty comfortable with opting my (straight A report card) 3rd grader out of the PARCC and will continue to opt out both of my primary grade children until I deem that such tests are appropriate for my children developmentally as students.

    • Northside

      Nice job. I agree if this test is ao.perfect why aren’t schools.like UC Lab and the likes taking it.
      ..very good question…..

      • Frustrated by CPS

        EXACTLY…. Why aren’t schools like UC Lab School taking it!

        It is because their administrators have common sense.

    • Frustrated by CPS

      Exactly. HB306 passed today. We need it to pass in the Senate. HB306 allows parents to protect their children from an inappropriate test. I am not wholly against standardized tests. BUT, I am wholly against the PARCC. I took the sample tests for HS English and for 3rd grade English. I found the test to be very poorly written. It is NOT a good measurement instrument.

      Furthermore, mental health is critical for children. If, as a parent, I notice signs of child abuse in my child as a result of the stress from a standardized test, I have the duty to protect my child. This was the case for MY child. HB306 allows me to protect my child so that my child is not placed in the position of having to tell a teacher that he will not cooperate! (It would be bad parenting to allow my child to tell a teacher, “No, I’m opting out of the test”).

  • Northside

    LET’S have this “conversation” why doest this principal,Arnie Duncan, and a few others take this test in a stuffy classroom with 34 students with all its odd random questions.BETTER yet. Why don’t you just administer it with 36×3 questions each about oddly crafted questions asking students to chose one response here and two responses here. Also much of the test just looks like they took the isat and put it on steroids. Yes we don’t buy this idea that this is the end all be all that it claims to be. I wonder if the author actually administered this test and read a few questions?

    • LeeAndra

      Hey Northside,
      The author did administer the test. The author did take the test. And I agree, the test has some issues (as stated in the article). We know that the systems are ideal. But what will we do different to prepare students for the world they will encounter?

      • Northside

        I think my anger is mis directed you are not to blame. I am sorry

        • Northside

          We need money to back up this test. I have zero materials now. .y whole curriculum practically comes from teacher pay teachers.
          makes me mad

  • Concerned Parent

    Are you really giving the PARCC exam yourself? Isn’t that a no=no for principals to do? You are art a charter school right?

    • LeeAndra

      By me…you mean my school team right???? Why would the principal give the exam?
      Because it is a test adminstered online… So the test is proctored by the counselors and teachers. No my school isn’t a charter, it is a CPS high school.

  • Frustrated by CPS

    A standardized test does not tell you what students learned. It gives you a snapshot of what they were able to perform on the day of the test. If the kid isn’t feeling well… they haven’t learned anything according to the test. What do tests, quizzes, homework, and exam grades tell you? A whole lot. The example you gave above tells me that the kid does everything asked of them, but still doesn’t understand the material.

    Now, if you are proposing to give a skill based report card… I might agree with you that it would be more informative. Joey knows how to balance chemical reactions vs Joey can balance redox reactions. Joey can solve mass-mass problems in stoichiometry. THAT would give you a lot of information (however, whether it was helpful to parents would depend upon their level of education).

    Having clear goals is essential.
    Having a test that is difficult for an educated adult as a test intended to measure the abilities of a child… that is problematic.

    • LeeAndra

      I am proposing a skills based report card. Not sure how to get there in this system.
      Essentially, my point is that this test challenges the status quo. It forces people to re-examine our practices. Not just for the test, but for what’s best for kids.

  • Northside

    I also believe if we want our children and students to think critically, we should be able to “complain” at times

  • L Shea

    Sigh. Another reformy U. of C. “thought partner” with limited classroom experience and a strong command of edu-babble. I predict a long and successful career collaborating with philanthro-capitalists, educational profiteers, hedge fund managers, CPS vendors, media outlets, politicians and a variety of Chicago kick-back artists.

    • LeeAndra

      Sigh is right. I’m saddened that my opinion about an exam allows people the space to personally attack my character and who I am.
      I am LeeAndra Diane Khan. The mother of a CPS student. The daughter of a retired Chicago Police officer. A former Civil Engineer. A teacher. A leader. A learner. A proud Chicagoan.
      To imply that I am anything but those things because you disagree is…
      But ok.

  • LeeAndra

    Not lecturing. Just offering an opinion. I was disappointed by the most recent 5Essentials. There is work to be done.
    I hope you looked at all the survey questions though. They tell a different story. Education is about growth. Change is hard.
    At any event, there is space for all opinions. Thanks for offering your perspective.

    • Post Adoption

      I did look at all of the survey questions…particularly those in the Teacher-Principal Trust category. If you are going to step into a public forum and tell any public school parent to “stop complaining,” you need to be ready for a thorough examination of your own record of educational leadership. Your credentials are ordinary…we all have credentials and many of us with higher education credentials who are discerning and knowledgeable are exactly the ones deciding to opt out our children if we deem it is what is best for our children. I noticed that, while you defensively addressed your 5 Essentials track record, you did not address a single point I made regarding the terrible deficiencies of the PARCC, especially as it is applied to testing of elementary grades. Because what I have pointed out as merit. So as long as the PARCC is this faulty, any parent should and will have the right to opt out their child if it is in the best interest of their child. Again, if this test was a quality and timely tool to help teachers with differentiation and adjustments to instruction? All private schools would be using it. But they are not.

  • Natalie

    LeeAndra shared her opinion about PARCC in an editorial piece. To defend your stance, which you are entitled to, by suggesting that she not share her opinion until survey scores change is not productive and speaks volumes about your understanding of this work. It is hard work. It is emotional work. And in our toughest communities, this work is done against all odds. Let’s engage. Let’s listen with the intent to understand. Let’s agree to disagree – if necessary. But let’s NOT defend our positions with data that has NOTHING to do with the discussion at hand. It just isn’t productive…it’s not nice…but you knew that when you posted it. Let’s be better.