PARCC board decides to make tests shorter

Colorado families Thursday got good news on shorter state testing times, just a day after a new law was signed that will reduce the number of tests students have to take during their school careers.

The governing board of PARCC, the multi-state group that provides state language arts and math tests, has voted to reduce total testing time by about 90 minutes in each grade. This means the testing time for high school students will be reduced by about 12 percent, and the time for 3rd graders by about 15 percent.

Math tests will be about an hour shorter and language arts tests will be reduced by 30 minutes. The shorter exams will launch in 2015-16.

The testing group also made changes in the timing of the online exams and reduced the number of sessions for each test.

Timing – The two testing “windows” used this spring will be combined into one next year. This year districts gave the performance-based PARCC tests between March 2 and April 3. Districts started giving end-of-year tests on April 20, and those tests have to be finished by Friday.

The new single testing window will start after 75 percent of the school year has been completed in mid to late March and run for about four weeks. Districts can choose when to give tests within the window. Exams for individual schools don’t last for the entire window. (See this Department of Education chart for more information on currently testing windows.)

Source: Colorado Department of Education

The performance-based portion includes writing exercises and other questions that require students to perform tasks, not just answer multiple-choice questions. The end-of-year exams are more oriented toward multiple-choice. Both types of questions will be combined in the new system.

Sessions – The language arts and math tests are broken into sessions, or what PARCC calls “units.” These also are being reduced. The total number of units given for both tests will be cut from eight to seven in grades 3-8 and from nine to six in high school.

But combination of the two testing windows will mean students will spend more time testing in March than they did this spring during the first window. Spokeswoman Dana Smith of CDE said, “Educators told us that it would make administration easier if they only had to gear up once for the tests.”

The testing group indicated previously that it was working to shorten the tests. “This is a move in the right direction,” said education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who serves on the PARCC board. “As long as we have the PARCC tests in Colorado, we need to listen to our educators, parents and students and adapt as necessary to ensure that the tests are as easy as possible to administer while protecting accuracy and reliability.”

About 540,000 Colorado students in grades three through 11 took the PARCC this spring. Overall, five million students in 11 states and the District of Columbia participated in the exams.

Earlier this month the legislature passed a bill that reduces high school testing and streamlines the non-PARCC assessments given in grades K-3, among other changes. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed that bill Wednesday. (Get more details in the new testing law in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)