Seniors face additional PARCC exam concerns

The first year of the PARCC exam has created additional hurdles for school staff members and seniors trying to graduate

Joshua Kellogg
Vista Nueva math teacher Charda Sanders plays a game of "Family Feud" with her students on March 6, 2014, in preparation for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment exams in Aztec. State students now take a different series of tests to determine if they will graduate.

AZTEC – The first year of the PARCC exam has created hurdles for local students and staff members to clear as some seniors hoping to graduate feel like they were set up to fail.

San Juan County school district administrators, principals and students shared their experiences managing the results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, exam scores for high school students that were released on Oct. 16.

Some seniors in Bliss Schlueter’s statistics class at Aztec High School said they feel like they are the “guinea pig” class of students and shared their agitation about being the first group required to pass portions of the exam to graduate.

Chuck Culpepper, the Bloomfield School District's director of operations and assessment, said the seniors this year had nine years of instruction before Common Core State Standards came into existence. Teaching them a whole new way to learn, then requiring them to pass a test on those standards before they can graduate, is daunting, he said.

"This is the first time they've been tested on it. It's a new world for them," Culpepper said.

According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, juniors will have to pass an English and language arts exam based on their grade level, along with a math exam like algebra 1, geometry and algebra 2, to earn their diploma. The exam is based on a five-point scale.

Vista Nueva juniors Erlinda Barron, right, and Ali Spaulding work with thesis statements in an English class on March 6, 2014, in preparation for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment exams in Aztec. That was the last year state public school students took those exams.

The state education department is allowing seniors this year and next school year who earn a 3, 4, or 5 score on either exam to pass. That will change for the class of 2018, which will have to earn a 4 or 5 to meet or exceed proficiency on the PARCC.

Aztec senior Ashley Garcia said the delayed release of the results — due to the exam being in its first year — made her nervous about whether she passed the PARCC exams. She didn't like taking a test in March and waiting nearly seven months for results that would determine if she graduates.

James Jacobs, Aztec Municipal School District data and assessment coordinator, said 122 of the 158 Aztec seniors passed the English and language arts PARCC exam and 52 students of the 158 passed their respective math exam last school year.

A number of students were disenchanted with having to take such a high-stakes exam on the computer for the first time.

“We didn’t know how to work the test system itself,” Aztec senior Delanie Meador said. “It was like an experiment, but for a grade, and that’s going to screw us all over.”

One senior said she suffers from dyslexia, and she struggled to use colored transparency paper — which she uses to help focus while reading — on the computer monitor.

The results were released about a month before seniors retake portions of the PARCC exam they didn't pass..

Vista Nueva student Bradley Foutz measures the density of liquids in Chris Maschino's science class on March 6, 2014, in preparation for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment exams.

Jacobs said the short window between the PARCC scores release and the retakes makes remediation and tutoring for students challenging. He said some test preparation for the retakes is being done in the Aztec High homeroom classes.

In Farmington, the principals at Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools said counselors and teachers have set up study sessions for students for the PARCC retakes throughout the school day and weekends.

“We’ve met with all of our seniors who need to retake the test. We’re calling them in before school, after school, during lunch and Saturday school,” FHS Principal Tim Kienitz said.

Dave Golden, principal at Piedra Vista, said getting students to school on Saturdays is an obstacle, but the teachers are dedicated to help students any way they can.

Golden and Kienitz and several area administrators said they have no timeline yet for when the retake scores will arrive.

As a precaution, they have started pulling the records of every senior to see if they met the “alternative demonstration of competency” to allow students to graduate without relying solely on the PARCC exam. The alternative demonstrations of competency allow students to show they mastered a course's curriculum, including achieving a certain score on an exam for an AP class, an End of Course exam and more.

“We’re rolling with some of the alternative demonstrations of competency already," Culpepper said.

Vista Nueva student Kacee Edwards, right, plays a game of experimental probability tic-tac-toe with guidance from counselor Rebekah Deane on March 6, 2014, in preparation for the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment exams in Aztec.

Schools will use the information gathered from the first year of the PARCC exam to determine how to tighten or refine the curriculum in English and math courses.

Aztec senior Dillon Blue said he felt most of his work in English class last year didn't align with what appeared on the test while his science and math teachers really tried hard to ensure the students were prepared for the exam. He said even some of his math teachers were unable to pass the practice PARCC exams.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.