By Anna Litten
My 9 year old doesn’t know how to type. I don’t often worry about the typing skills of kids, but since he’s taking the PARCC test on a computer this week, his words per minute really count.
This year, my son is one of 4,370 third graders in Boston taking the PARCC assessment. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education, PARCC *require(s) students to speak and write in a variety of formats and support their ideas with evidence from authoritative sources.* PARCC calls on students to bring high-level thinking skills to their work. I love the push to ask kids to think and engage with information but I also wonder about that typing. Will poor typing get in the way of real assessment?
Throughout the loud debate around Common Core-aligned instruction and assessment I have been a moderate. I believe that in the interest of equity, teachers must have tools to assess student learning in order to improve and adjust their instruction to better meet the needs of all students. At the elementary school my children attend, lower test scores for black and brown children has been a rallying cry for improvement. I see teachers and administrators I know and trust use assessment data to focus work on improving teaching and to provide supports for families so we can narrow the achievement gap between kids of color and their white peers. This is what assessment should do: give our schools the information to identify where we fail students, and fix it.
Computer-based PARCC asks kids to answer the kind of bubble questions adults often think of when they hear *standardized testing* but PARCC also asks kids to answer open response questions. Third graders are asked to read short passages and write brief responses based on question prompts. As a librarian and a writer, I love asking kids to read, think and write. As a parent, I have no idea how asking my son to do this on a computer will provide anyone with a useful assessment of his skills and abilities. Like many younger children he simply isn’t a good enough typist to show off his work in an essay.
My son isn’t alone. A February, 2016 Education Week article, *PARCC Scores Lower for Students Who Took Exams on Computers,* examined discrepancies in test results between computer-based test takers and pencil and paper test takers. Reasons for lower scores for computer testing are not always clear but the evidence points to familiarity with the testing platform as a key marker for a child’s success in this assessment. For my son and many others, typing skills will certainly affect PARCC scores.
He’s a budding magician and I’d much rather see him practice his fine motor skills on shuffling a deck and wowing me with a card trick than achieving 50 words per minute.
My son’s class uses Typing Club and other apps in class to boost familiarity with the keyboard and touch typing. He’s got the hang of touch typing, but for the most part, he’s still hunting and pecking away. We haven’t really pushed typing at home. He’s a budding magician and I’d much rather see him practice his fine motor skills on shuffling a deck and wowing me with a card trick than achieving 50 words per minute.
In many ways, I don’t care that my son won’t show his best work or that the testing will be difficult for him. A child’s job is to learn to problem solve, or better yet to problem-find, and navigate difficult situations. My hope for him is that he takes important lessons from his PARCC experience in doing his best with the resources he has, asking questions about what he needs to do better, and advocating for himself and others.
My child, who is aware of his strengths as a reader as well as his limitations as a typist, finds the idea computer-based testing kind of funny. I’m not worried that he’ll find computer-based testing stressful or disheartening. I do question the usefulness of this type of assessment for 8 and 9 year olds. If we truly want to use assessments as a tool for discovering where we fail kids, we need to find another way to assess students that will allow teachers and administrators to learn about what students know aside from familiarity with a keyboard and assessment platform.
Anna Litten is a librarian and the mom of three Boston Public School students. Send comments to Jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com.