Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Testifying on #PARCC in Springfield

This is the testimony that was given to the House Committee that met on 2/25/2015. The audio of the actual testimony can be found here. Because of time concerns things got a little rushed, and I edited my comments on the fly in response to comments made by other speakers. Many thanks to Jane Hyink, Leyden’s Literacy Department Chair, from whom I directly lifted some of the better parts of this testimony.

Testimony submitted in advance of the committee meeting:

"My name is Mikkel Storaasli and I am the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Leyden High Schools, located right next to O’Hare Airport. We have been  1 computing device-to-1 student district for three years, and we plan on implementing the computer based PARCC at the ninth grade level at both of our high schools.  I would like to comment on the unique impact of the PARCC Assessment at the high school level.

As you probably know, there are two administrations of the PARCC assessment, one at the approximate 75% point of the school year (the PBA) and the other at the 90% point of the year (the EOY)

The PBA has 5 units (3 language arts and 2 math), and the EOY has 4 units (2 language Arts and 2 math)

According to the test administration manual that we have recently received, the amount of time that the we must allow for testing, from the time the student enters the room until the time the next unit can be started are:

  • PBA Language Arts (3 Units): 105 minutes, 120 minutes, and 90 minutes
  • PBA Mathematics (2 units): 120 minutes and 105 minutes
  • EOY Language Arts (2 units): 90 minutes and 90 minutes
  • EOY Mathematics (2 units): 110 minutes and 105 minutes
This is a total of 935 minutes, or about 15 and a half hours of time spent in a testing room.

We also have approximately 60 students who receive extended time accommodations. Each of those nine sections could take a full day for those students: that’s nine full days of testing for students with some of the greatest needs.

The unique structure of the traditional high school day means that the 105 minutes spent on that first of five PARCC language arts units does not only impact the student’s language arts class. It will necessarily bleed over into other college preparatory core subject areas like mathematics, science, or social studies.

The 120 minutes spent sitting for the first of four PARCC mathematics units will certainly reduce time spent in classes that teach career readiness such as business classes, family and consumer sciences, industrial technology.

Ironically, a test purportedly designed to assess “Readiness for College and Careers” specifically and significantly reduces the opportunities for students to prepare for college and career readiness skills, which also includes classes in the fine arts, languages, and physical education.

One must also remember that high school classes are not strictly based on grade level. That is, we have many courses that have a mixture of ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students.  How then, can a teacher of any mixed grade level course plan for lessons? Any of these classes effectively come to a halt for a week in March and another week in April, even for those students not testing. The impact of this test is often more far-reaching than we think. It effectively blows apart the school day for two weeks for a vast number of our students.

I can’t even begin to describe the number of hours by educators spent preparing for these tests and the number of hours teachers will spend proctoring instead of teaching. My own title is the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, but I spend very little time analyzing curriculum or  improving instruction. Instead, most of my job is to implement this test, preparing data files for upload, putting students into sessions in the Pearson test system, preparing proctor materials.

Recently there have been studies done on the readability of the PARCC question items.  In general, the reading level of the PARCC assessments have been found to be two grade levels higher than the grades being tested. These studies can be found at this website:


In light of this information, what is the purpose of assessing students for lengthy sessions at a frustrational level? If this first PARCC is for a baseline, why not use a shorter version to provide a starting point?

If a student is a struggling reader, a language-learner, or behind in math skills, why make them struggle for hours when you could get a pretty good picture with much less time? Will it make them a better reader? No. Will it make them a better speaker of English? No. Will it make them division experts? No. Will the teacher receive immediate information that will help guide instruction? No.

While I can agree that we need a way to measure growth for students that is standardized, I am not convinced that a lengthy exam written at what some experts feel is above "grade level" is the correct tool.

After 18 years in education, I still cringe when I see a struggling reader work as hard as he can to pass a standardized test that he knows he will fail for the sake of being labeled with a percentile. Every teacher, parent, administrator, and legislator should be ashamed to put struggling students in this position.

I urge you to go online and take some of the PARCC sample items, and decide for yourself if these are appropriate to judge student ability, or teacher or school effectiveness. Sample tests for all grade levels can be found at:


We are not afraid of accountability. We are not afraid of working hard to raise our students up. Teachers and administrators are among the most hardworking and dedicated people on this planet. Unfortunately, PARCC and tests like it have become monsters that drain students of classroom instruction time, and adults of the opportunity to do what they do best: work with kids and raise their intellect and prepare them to be thoughtful, caring adults.

Students in the state are raising their voices via the #stopPARCC movement, because they know full well this is a non-relevant product. Colleges are not recognizing it and businesses could care less. It means nothing to students, other than the fact that they know it’s robbing them of their education.

I urge you to take a common sense look at the severely negative impact that this runaway testing culture is having on the students in this state. "

Mikkel Storaasli
Twitter: @mstoraasli


  1. Mikkel,

    Thank for making such a thoughtful statement. We need more school leaders like yourself. Keep on putting student learning and growth first!


  2. Thanks Jim. I appreciate the comment.

  3. Teachers in New Mexico share your concerns. Thank you for voicing them.

  4. Hi Leslie- One of these days, maybe all of our concerns will be heard.

  5. At least when I spent 100+ hours on the "new" teacher evaluation modules, i saw a benefit to it. I used to work with you through D83. Appreciate you going to Springfield and voicing. I'd like to see, perhaps over time, the PARCC-style questions, formatted like the MAP, so that the test moves up/down, with the strengths and weaknesses of the students. If we have to take it, it could at least make sense.

    1. Or we could just use the MAP. Yes, the PARCC questions are more sophisticated, although not necessarily validated. The reading level thing really bothers me. If a kid simply can't access the text, what exactly are we measuring?

  6. Your statement is well-thought out and such a very accurate description of what the PARCC is. Our Title 1 school has more than 60% low-income students with a great majority of those reading below grade level, many far below grade level. When the PARCC reading level is 1-2 grades above their students' grade, students who aren't even at grade level are going to just bomb out. When we get their scores, what new information will we have? Didn't we already know they couldn't read 3-4 levels above their current level? Didn't we already know they wouldn't be able to form a well-supported essay about text they couldn't comprehend? The scores will be so very low that they will not give useful information about what specific reading skills they are lacking. We will be left sitting ducks waiting for the next governmental useful idiot to sweep us into their dustbin of 5 second sound bites saying, "See we told you our teachers can't teach! We told you we need private business to come in and take over! We told you how smart we are and now we plan to sprinkle little bits of money around the state for reading programs and to buy a book for each and every 3rd grader to read over the summer! We told you we know what we are doing!" Anyway, great job Mikkel. Here in New Mexico teachers who have tough questions aren't being invited to speak to the legislature, so kudos to you and to Illinois for at least listening.

    1. Wow, Lorrie. Bulls-eye. Unfortunately, I think that's one outcome. I'm hoping that people start to have enough and hold those politicians accountable. I'm also hoping that enough parents from enough states start to speak up about testing overall, and the national media starts to cover it more honestly. Probably a fantasy on my part, but there's always hope. Good luck!

    2. Wow, Lorrie. Bulls-eye. Unfortunately, I think that's one outcome. I'm hoping that people start to have enough and hold those politicians accountable. I'm also hoping that enough parents from enough states start to speak up about testing overall, and the national media starts to cover it more honestly. Probably a fantasy on my part, but there's always hope. Good luck!

  7. Mikkel, Your testimony was outstanding. I sat in front of you and your wife in the pink dress. So powerful. Thank you.

    1. Hi Marsha-

      You did a great job yourself. Thanks to you too!

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