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School system transitions to PARCC writing assessment

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Much like the Obamacare website roll-out, when it was time for Tennessee’s fifth, eighth and eleventh graders to take a statewide writing assessment earlier this month, there were problems. 

“They didn’t have enough servers to handle the statewide traffic,” said Tipton County Schools Director of Instruction Dr. John Combs. “They spent a year making sure we were ready, then they weren’t.” 

So the test was paused while the state’s contracted vendor – Measurement Inc. – added additional servers.

And because the weather took a turn for the worse that day, local schools were dismissed after lunch and students had already been dismissed by the time the email arrived notifying staff to resume the assessment. 

It didn't seem to be an easy first run.

“It was kind of crazy that it happened during those weather days,” Combs said, “but our students resumed it the next day. It was fine.”

The writing assessment given was a trial-run that will help students and teachers transition from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) to the new one administered as part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) evaluation. 

Achievement and end of course testing currently done by the state is covered under the TCAP umbrella, that is they are labeled as TCAP tests, and the new PARCC assessments will fall under that as well, Comb said. 

PARCC tests will be in math and English/language arts for grades 3-11. Other achievement testing is not set to change. 

The thing is, though, schools aren't quite sure if the state will switch to PARCC next school year or not, so the trial run this year may be a waste of time.

"If some of these bills pass, we won't, but who knows? We're on pace to change to PARCC, we're ready for it and we want the kids to be ready for it." 

On Wednesday, the Tennessee Education Association called for the state to end its plans to institute PARCC, which will be done in conjunction with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

“TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide adequate time and resources to be effective. Tennessee teacher involvement in standards development and implementation is critical to ensure the standards are developmentally appropriate for all students,” said Gera Summerford, TEA president and Sevier County math teacher.

Calling PARCC exams more intense, Combs said if students are ready for those, they'll be ready for what parents, teachers and students have traditionally called TCAPs. 

This year’s results will not be counted on the school’s state report card, the students’ grades or teacher effect data. 

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