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KEEPING PARCC IN MIND FOR MATH… WITHOUT TEACHING TO THE TEST

Last week we looked at ways to prepare students for the PARCC assessment without falling prey to simply “teaching to the test”. With the following recommendations, math teachers will not only prepare their students for the new assessment but also continue to motivate them to enhance their mathematical proficiency.

Be aware of the “core” differences.

The PARCC test will reflect the Common Core Content standards, and those who have been teaching math for years must now adjust: content and the emphasis that was once part of a particular grade level may not be the same anymore. For instance, sixth grade math teachers used to focus on adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions as an important part of their instruction. Now, much of that content (with the exception of division of fractions) has been moved to fifth grade. Likewise, many geometry topics have been shifted into seventh grade and beyond. Though most school districts have realigned their curriculum to reflect these changes, it’s helpful for the classroom teacher to be aware of what has moved “up” or “down”. Math teachers can take an active role in this transition by attending and/or organizing articulation meetings with grades “above” and “below” them.

Also, it is important to note that topics that appear to be similar to the former NJ State Standards may differ in their emphasis: now, certain concepts require deeper levels of understanding. One of the sample questions for math covers the familiar topics of area and perimeter, but pilot test results revealed that students didn’t always succeed with the task because they didn’t grasp the relationship between area and perimeter. This is an instance where being able to calculate area and perimeter isn’t going to be enough – knowing that students need to comprehend the relationship between the two could mean the difference between a student excelling with a concept and simply having a rudimentary understanding of it.

Familiarize students with the new format.

With a computer-based test, differences are inevitable when compared to a pencil-and-paper assessment. Check out some of the samples that PARCC has released in order to teach your students about some of the “new” kinds of questions they may encounter. For instance, one of the sample questions for Grade 3 asks students to drag a marker on a number line to show where the fraction 1/6 falls between 0 and 1. Not only does this question reflect a deeper understanding of a “typical” math topic – as now students are required to “connect thinking about a fraction as an area to thinking about a fraction as a location on a number line” (from CCSS Toolbox) – but it also asks the students to use their mouse skills to answer the question correctly. Even with the mathematical content knowledge, students may struggle if they don’t understand how to complete the computer-related tasks with ease. As the teacher, you can facilitate this transition by knowing some of the pitfalls your students may encounter and by helping them to overcome these obstacles.

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