By Taariq Adams
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
A local activist is challenging Baltimore City Council officials about the readiness of elementary and high school students for an upcoming computer-driven standardized test.
The main concern of Kim Trueheart? Many schools lack computers.
November 13 is the date that students in grades 3-12 will take the PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers standardized tests. For the past two years, PARCC has been administered as part of standardized testing in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics.
Trueheart said Baltimore City school children are being set up for failure because the PARCC assessments are computer based. Besides the lack of computers, she also pointed to poor infrastructure at some schools that might make it difficult to install computer labs as well as lack of staff training.
She testified before the Education and Youth Committee, after Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, presented a new public school plan titled, “Building a Generation: City Schools’ Blueprint For Success.” This plan is based on the Common Core Curriculum. PARCC is one of two consortia designing new Common Core standardized tests.
Janice Hyman, Liberty Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization president, expressed similar concerns in an interview.
“As a parent, my thoughts on the PARCC tests is that it’s unfair,” said Hyman. “The children are not prepared to take them. There’s really no guidelines to try to prepare the children to take these tests and now I’m finding out that it’s computerized.”
Hyman explained the problems of bringing in computers just for the standardized tests.
“They have to learn the keyboard, a lot of students at Liberty do not have access to a computer, do not have access to a keyboard [to do] finger placement on the keyboard,” said Hyman.
“Also, it’s more fluency, you see it, you know, you hit the button and I think that’s unfair too because of a lot of students don’t really learn that way,” she said.
In addition, Hyman said that the parents and teachers might have to develop many new ways to teach the students to use the computer to improve their chance of doing well.
Results from an earlier PARCC assessment this year showed a majority of the 180 Baltimore City Public Schools had low scores, many with only single-digit passage rates, according to an online database with the Baltimore Sun.
Trueheart specifically named Alexander Hamilton Elementary as one school that generally does not have any computers for students in the classroom. To prepare for the earlier assessment, she said computers were brought in, and once the students completed the tests, the computers were taken back. Only 7 percent of the students passed the standardized test, according to the Baltiimore Sun database.
At Liberty, she said that more than 460 students are enrolled but the elementary school does not have a computer for each student.
“Obviously there are a lot of challenges, we have a lot of kids who don’t get the same kinds of opportunities as our peers that have more access to technology at home, field trips, outside tutors and things like that,” said Liberty Principal Joseph Manko.
“We’re trying the best we can to provide a good educational experience here so that they can do as well on the tests,” he said.
Manko explained that students traditionally take PARCC tests in May and the schools get score results in July. School officials learn the overall score for students, their scales score, and individual performances in each breakout section as well as the school’s overall performance according to the different standards.
“We use that in order to identify each kid and what their needs are and adjust and provide support to them in the following year,” said Manko.
Despite the computer problem at Liberty, Trueheart acknowledged that the elementary school does get some resources from a partnership it has with the American Association of Retired Persons. The AARP supports a reading program, while its recreation center provides after-school programs for students.
“We talk about the word equity in this city a lot because we have the haves and the have nots,” Trueheart said. “There are schools that have the resources and schools that don’t, and is that the child’s fault? How do you level this playing field so that every child in the system gets the same level of academic prowess?”