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Using the PARCC Score Reports to Guide Instruction ~ Jessica Moore

PARCC scores were released last Thursday and were just as I had predicted: somewhat dismal. In the state of Colorado, 40.5% of 5th graders scored on track for college and career readiness in Language Arts, while only 30.1% of those same 5th graders met or exceeded expectations in Math. There is really no way around the simple reality of these scores – we have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that ALL of our students are adequately prepared for the post-secondary world.

In general terms, it can be easy to simply interpret the scores as all negative. In fact, I have had to remind myself, someone directly involved in the development of the test and invested in the outcomes of higher standards, that these scores don’t just carry weight as a matter of accountability, but also as a matter of instructional reflection. Instead of just looking at proficiency numbers, we need to ask ourselves, “How can I actually use this information to improve my instruction and yield better results in the future?”

To begin answering that question, let’s consider data. One benefit of the new PARCC assessment is that we’re getting a much richer data set to interpret. For example, in the past when I received my TCAP scores, I’d perform a skim and scan to see who was Advanced, Proficient, Partially Proficient and Unsatisfactory. Once I knew, and frankly it was quite easy to predict, I would set a goal to increase my proficiency scores by x-amount over the next year and that was it. No instructional reflection took place because I didn’t have the right kind of data to reflect on. Enter the PARCC Score Reports, which were largely designed with and by active classroom teachers.

Like the standards themselves, the score reports are clear and direct about student expectations. For example, if a 6th grade student earns a 44 on the Reading Assessment, alone the score means nothing. However, the report also provides context, including how that score compares to the school, district, and state averages and more importantly, how the score compares to the average of students just meeting expectations. If the “average of students just meeting expectations” is a 50, the score of 44 brings some relative clarity to how a student is performing.

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As a teacher though, I need even more specific instructi
onal knowledge to make qualitative changes to my teaching. The performance level is only the first piece of the puzzle, the most powerful data is revealed in the detailed score breakdowns.

The report below shows that the student scored quite low in their ability to analyze complex literary text, while their skills were stronger when applied to informational text. But even more specifically, the report shows that in order to meet expectations, students must be able to analyze fiction, drama and poetry. This student performed better with texts about history, science, art and music, which helps me as a teacher to know that I must give greater attention to supporting my students as they unwrap complex literary materials with attention to standards.

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In reviewing my student’s score information, I can also begin to note trends. This student performed as well or better than students who met expectations in vocabulary. As a teacher, this distinction is important because understanding vocabulary provides the key to comprehending text. If students can make sense of the text on a literal level, but are unable to successfully interpret it on a more abstract level, I have clarity on where I need to focus my instructional efforts.
Hopefully, districts will spend time training teachers to reflect on the information contained in the PARCC Score Reports. It’s one thing to identify one’s areas of needed improvement, but another to know what steps and resources are available to make the difference. Districts have the opportunity to blend score results with teacher professional learning in a progressive way. I know that I will be spending the time to find my areas of instructional need based on the incoming data and eagerly look forward to capitalizing on this information by enrolling in trainings aligned to those needs.