How two teachers in Nantucket, Massachusetts tackled PARCC preparation
Guest post by: Marita Scarlett and Chip Davis
It was a warm, sunny early fall day when we walked into the cafeteria for our staff meeting and PARCC practice test; Chip dreaming of surfing and me requesting access to my accommodations. How would I ever be able to focus on a standardized test in a hot, sunny room full of educators clicking away? All the noise buffering, bedazzled headphones in the world would not be enough to make this work for me. But we persevered, we labored through the PARCC practice tests. And then, we looked at each other, and our colleagues and wondered: how are our 8th graders EVER going to be able to take this test?
Chip, being the classic type A English teacher must have gone home and started researching immediately. I imagine him toiling away at his computer with a sticky note covered copy of Night in his back pocket, and the Common Core State Standards highlighted and marked up on his desk. What tools were out there? What were other teachers doing? How do I prepare my students without sacrificing my curriculum and teaching to the test? How on earth are my students going to be ready to take this test?
My fears were of a different variety. I have spent the last year teaching my students how to mark up the text, break down the words, restate the questions, use a graphic organizer. I have been teaching language based strategies for a paper based world, and now my students will be given a Chromebook, two pieces of blank paper and a pair of headphones and asked to prove what they can do. How do I scaffold them and give them the tools they need to show what they know? How do I keep their self-esteem in tact? How do I raise the bar and hold them accountable while giving them the support and the tools they need when I don’t even know what to offer?
Well, Chip came across Edcite and we got right to it. When Chip brought me the information, I coordinated with our Language Based Learning Disability Consultant for the three of us to get together. Chip had a plan (he always does) and I was ready to come along for the ride. We brainstormed about what the students would need to be successful, what their IEP’s allowed for, and compared these to the PARCC accommodations. Chip planned to create an assessment using multiple texts, based on the Holocaust unit we were wrapping up. Students would have excerpts from the class novel Night by Elie Wiesel and the Literature Circle novel that they were assigned based on interest and lexile levels. The test would mimic Part 1 of Performance Based Assessment in format and rigor. There would be questions with Part A and Part B as well as a constructed response. We decided that I would create a packet of checklists and graphic organizers for the students who required them and modify the grading, not the test itself since it was already differentiated with the multiple novels. We would allow students with the IEP accommodation of extra time the same extension they would get on the PARCC. But what about the students whose reading disability would keep them from accessing the texts?
I reached out to Edcite via email and much to my surprise I got a quick response from Amar asking if I could make time to phone conference with him and his team of educators. We connected with Talia at that time and she was able to guide me to resources through Google Chrome that would digitize the text so students could listen to the excerpts as they would be able to on the PARCC. The Edcite team was so helpful and responsive to us throughout the process. When we asked if there was going to be a way to toggle between texts, the function appeared a few days later!
Was it perfect and seamless? No, of course not! Formatting was difficult, especially for the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman; there were glitches with starting and stopping the test, and the scores were not what we had hoped for but all of our students stuck with it. We have plans to administer another Edcite exam, this one aligned with the reading of The Giver by Lois Lowry and the 3rd part of the 8th Grade Performance Based Assessment. Students will be asked to create a new ending to the novel, an extended narrative like the PARCC asks.
If you are looking for the assessments search “Night” and you will find 8 versions of the assessment. Keep an eye out for the upcoming The Giver assessment too! If you are interested in the checklists and graphic organizers I provided to students, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheers and happy PARCC-type assessing!
Marita Scarlett (special educator) and Chip Davis (English teacher) co-teach 8th grade ELA at Cyrus Peirce Middle School in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Here are some of their outstanding PARCC-aligned assignments, where students compare the two texts mentioned in the title: (1) Night — Maus I and II (2) Night — Number the Stars (3) Night — Anne Frank.