Six weeks after completing the first round of PARCC testing, PHS freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will take the next round of the new standardized test on April 27 and 28. AP exams, meanwhile, span the two-week period following the two days of the PARCC testing, from May 4 to 15.
Parents of about 800 of the 1,164 eligible students submitted letters of refusal before the first round of the PARCC, according to a post by Superintendent Steven Cochrane on his webpage on the Princeton Public Schools website. “At the personal level, the students who made the decision with their families not to take the PARCC assessment did so based on a careful consideration of their individual needs and the competing pressures in their lives,” Cochrane wrote on his website, citing AP classes as one of these pressures.
Princeton Public Schools Director of Guidance Angela Siso said the refusals students submitted to Principal Gary Snyder for the first round apply to the second round of testing as well. Students who did take the first part of the test no longer have the option to refuse—they must also participate in the second round.
“We are going to make sure that our students who did take the test in window one complete the process, just so that they have a final score when this is all said and done,” Siso said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to be in a situation where [refusing] hurt them. We still don’t know what the state is going to say … I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Because the administration now knows the number of students taking the exam at the end of April is much smaller than the number for which they prepared in March, Siso said only the old gym will be used for the second window of testing, and fewer computers will be reserved.
“For a month, we didn’t have any electronics available for our classes,” said history teacher Mark Shelley regarding the first round of testing. “I understand it’s going to be scaled back [this time but it still] makes it hard to plan.”
The timing of PARCC has led to concerns for some students taking both the PARCC and one or more AP exams, as well as for AP teachers.
In order to create the least possible amount of interruption, the administration has intentionally compacted the second round of testing into two days, in contrast to the eight days from the first session in early March. “Students will only have to take either … a morning for language arts and an afternoon for math or vice versa,” Siso said.
Nonetheless, students said that the last few days before the exam are often the most important. “The few days before the AP exam are pretty critical because the teacher is making sure that we get all the material that they need to get in before the exam,” said Jonathan Petrozzini ’17, who will be taking the AP United States History exam as well as the PARCC.
Niccolo Bechtler ’17, who will be taking the AP Music Theory exam and the PARCC, does not feel that the test will interfere with his preparation. “I’m sure we’ll have finished everything before that week and I’m imagining the week will just be review, which I can do pretty well at home. I can always go in for extra help,” he said.
Some teachers, however, feel frustrated with the loss of valuable class time due to testing. “To me, [the PARCC] just seems like another drain on that precious time we actually have to work with students in the classroom,” Shelley said. “As an AP teacher, everything always, no matter how well-planned you are, accelerates as you get towards May, and it’s so hard to have students out for multiple days.”
During the two weeks of the PARCC in early March, the schedule alternated between the regular schedule (periods one through eight) and an inverted one (periods eight through one) so that those taking the test would not miss the same classes every day. The second round of testing will not follow an inverted schedule at all—due to its brevity, both testing days will be following a normal schedule.
Some students expressed concern about their absence in classes due to the exam in March. “There was a lot of class that was missed, lots of assignments,” said Rachel Cheng ’18. “Going back into class, we had to figure out how to make up those assignments. There were still quizzes and tests being administered … so there was a lot of work to make up.”
Others did not find the make-up work to be an issue and even cited missing class as a reason they decided not to refuse the test. “[Missing] classes [wasn’t] an issue … Just getting out of class for a day was kind of like a little vacation with no homework,” Petrozzini said. “My teachers made sure that we didn’t get behind because of the PARCC … Even though most of the class wasn’t taking the PARCC, they respected the people that did.”
History teacher Dr. Rick Miller used and will continue to use the testing days as review opportunities to avoid covering new material with some students out. “We couldn’t … penalize those who took the test,” Miller said. “I tried to find a compromise where we still did something valuable [but] the students who were taking the test weren’t going to miss anything.”
Emma Eikelberner ’16 said her teachers continued teaching normally during the testing because of the high percentage of juniors who refused to take the test. “I would say because very few people were actually taking the test, [teachers] felt it was not fair to the rest of the kids who weren’t [taking the PARCC] to not continue on,” she said.
After realizing that very few students would be testing and absent from class, economics teacher Lisa Bergman decided to go ahead and teach regularly. “I anticipated going through the material at a slightly slower pace so that students who were out testing wouldn’t have missed so much work … [but] the only thing that changed was that I didn’t give any assessments … because even the two or three [students] who would be testing, I just wanted to make sure that they weren’t adversely affected by that,” she said.
Students taking the second round of PARCC also feel more prepared for the format of the exam, which, unlike other standardized tests, is administered on computers, presenting a challenge to some. Specifically, some students felt that using computers for the mathematics portion was complicated.
“Had I had a pen and paper that I could just work [the questions] out with, it would have gone a lot quicker. But having to type everything in with the equations and all the characters that you don’t typically have to use … it was a lot more time-consuming than I think was practical,” Bechtler said. “I ran out of time at the end of the math portion, so I guess I’d say [I will] just work a little more evenly through that and not spend so much time on the challenging ones.”
Additionally, many felt that neither students nor parents were sufficiently educated about the process going into the first round of testing and thus feel more comfortable with all aspects of the test for the end of April. “I felt like [the PARCC] was really sudden with unanswered questions about it … [and that] lots of the parents did not receive the needed information regarding what their students would be tested on,” Cheng said. “For the next round of testing, I don’t think I’ll be nearly as stressed out.”
At some point, students will receive a score report detailing their performance. “The student eventually will get a report that tells them a comprehensive score and then individual unit scores so they can see areas of strength and weaknesses,” Siso said. “Our hope is that after all of this, students will have information about what they need to work harder on and teachers will also get information that will help them with instructional planning.”