How One School District Readied Itself For PARCC Implementation

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by Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District

As one of twenty-four member states of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), New Jersey has integrated education assessment technology as a crucial component in the introduction of Common Core State Standards.

By the 2014-15 school year, all students in participating states will be tested according to Common Core State Standards exclusively using computers. The consensus among policymakers is that the use of digital platforms will dramatically improve the storage and comparison of results, and the quality of education provided to our students. However, many districts are struggling to manage this enormous shift and aptly prepare administration, teachers and students.

One District’s Story in Preparing for PARCC

At Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District we are responsible for 5,200 students ranging from pre-k to eighth grade. We operate five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one early learning center.

The impetus for us to integrate data-driven assessment technology was two-fold: Not only was the PARCC initiative looming, but New Jersey State was also in the process of implementing its own statewide assessment program. The New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) is meant to track student achievement in relation to state standards. We needed student performance data that would help us prepare students for the NJ ASK, and we needed to have it with in a timely and accessible fashion.

We knew it was time to prepare our teachers for their teaching future.

As we continue toward a more technology and data-driven approach to education, we’re seeing the notion of individualized teaching slowly become an attainable reality. This article shares the knowledge we’ve gained and our suggested best practices in hopes that we can benefit our many colleagues currently preparing for PARCC and help ease the transition.

5 Best Practices For PARCC Implementation

Best Practice #1: Start Now

I have served as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and human resources at the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District in Englishtown, New Jersey since 2007. Prior to that, I was director of curriculum and instruction for the Clinton Township School District, and held various other administrative and teaching positions for decades before that. One thing

my years of experience taught me is that change on this scale is extremely difficult to execute on a district-wide, let alone national, level. We decided that getting an early start in implementing assessment technology and data analysis systems prior to PARCC would be critical to our district’s success amid transition.

This exercise in preparedness has been well-received despite the pitfalls of a new technology implementation, and we’re beginning to see the early results of what we know will be a long process.

Best Practice #2: Find the Right Provider and Seek Referrals

We had just embarked on our search for educational technology options when we learned that a neighboring district had just undergone an exhaustive search. They shared their results

with us, and like them, we determined that LinkIt, an educational assessment, analysis and teaching tool technology offering many of the teaching and administrative functions we were looking for in one package, would best meet our needs. For teachers, LinkIt enables data tracking, custom test creation both online and offline and important time-saving tools like access to the lesson library with targeted lesson plans designed to help struggling students. On the administrative side, LinkIt’s legacy data program powers long-term comparative data analysis and an attentive customer support team that would work with the school’s technology team to ensure smooth integration.

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Best Practice #3: Teachers Are the Teaching Experts

Our primary goal was to find a data-driven and technological approach to education that would help teachers, not waste their time and frustrate them. Any administrator will tell you that an education initiative requires teacher cooperation to attain any level of traction. I truly believe that most teachers are motivated by and feel responsibility for the success of their students. If they believe in the efficacy of a program and are convinced it will help their students learn, they are willing to do what it takes to make it work.

We decided to implement a peer training system to leverage the efficacy of using the teaching skills of our staff and to develop an internal peer support network for troubleshooting needs in the future. An initial team of teachers, principals, and supervisors were trained directly by LinkIt SVP of School Partnerships, Ryan Winter. These first trainees were deployed to teach small groups of five or fewer of their peers, so that each teacher would receive the necessary individual attention required to gain comfort with the LinkIt platform.

This turnkey process enabled us to build internal tech support and troubleshooting capacity in a short period of time, for relatively little cost, as teachers helped each other gain proficiency with the system.

Best Practice #4: Empower Teachers with Technology

During the first round of benchmark testing we completed in December 2011, teacher response was overwhelmingly positive. LinkIt provided data sets that could be segmented by district, school, classroom, down to the individual student. We established a procedure that encouraged teacher control of the testing experience, putting them in charge of test distribution and creating strategies on how best to use data gathered to adjust curriculum. We found that by giving teachers ownership of the process, they were more likely to connect the information with their in-class experiences and get the most out of the data sets.

Best Practice #5: “Fast as possible, but as slow as necessary.”

Any district or school must understand that combining your school’s database or perhaps even paper filing system with that of the technology vendor is not going to be easy. Until the national education system bands together to develop a uniform data management system, we have to rely on the good-hearted customer support staff our vendors provide to help our tech teams navigate the glitches as quickly and smoothly as possible. Our road to compatibility was certainly not without its trials, but by the second assessment period we undertook using the LinkIt platform in May 2012, we saw marked improvement in workflow and began to see the potential benefits of applying technology to education.

Results

Teachers reported new insights from the data that was gathered. Some have adopted a more ‘variable teaching’ style, allowing for more efficient, customized instruction to address struggling and high-achieving students. Others used the LinkIt reports in Parent-Teacher conferences that immediately followed testing, and they found the clear and timely results helpful in making teaching decisions and recommendations for parent help at home.

The integration of Common Core State Standards and assessment technology into the education system can be overwhelming, and if they are not introduced properly, the potential benefits may be unrealized, causing both teachers and students to lose out on the contribution that technology can bring to our ability to identify and respond to individual student needs.

Data collection, and the timely analysis and application of the findings, has the potential to be one of the most significant tools at a teacher’s disposal. It is the responsibility of school leaders to formulate integration plans that allow teachers to truly own their data and effectively use it in their day-to-day practice. Beyond its importance for navigating Common Core State Standards and PARCC, it allows us to meet the instructional needs of individual students.

That’s a future I can’t wait to see.

This is a contributed post by the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District; image attribution flickr user sociocentral and wintercool612