Each week, I meet with my grade level colleagues for a Community of Practice meeting. Yesterday, they asked me to bring some information about the PARCC assessment now under development as it pertains to our sixth grade. They know I have been diving into the Common Core, PARCC and all that to get a handle on the direction our state is going (moving into full implementation of Common Core and PARCC looms on the horizon). We, as a team want to be ready, knowing that in two years our entire testing system is going to likely change.
I shared the two images above with them. These come from the PARCC site (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and the assessment criteria and system is still in draft stage at this point. But there is enough of what is being talked about being made public now to understand the general shifts that are surely coming our way, and soon. For us, we have been using our COP time this year and some of last year to begin talking about how to teach literacy skills in the content areas, and certainly, we have beefed up writing assignments and instruction in ELA, Social Studies and Science. We’re sharing and developing common rubrics and communicating more about assignments that touch on the skills, and how to best coordinate those activities together. (We could still do more, though).
As we perused the PARCC materials, it became clear to all of us that we will need to be doing a lot around teaching critical research skills to our students. We know this is a weak area for us. And in talking to other teachers and working in other districts, this seems to be a common area of weakness.
We’re lucky in that our librarian/media specialist does work with our students around issues of research and citation, but her curriculum and lessons are fairly isolated activities. In other words, her unit is not really tied to an authentic assignment in the sixth grade classroom. I’ll be doing a bigger push this spring in ELA classes around research strategies, the Internet as a source, and citation as part of an environmental essay/multimedia project that brings together a lot of components from the entire year around writing. In the past, I have touched on these issues of research but focused mostly on the writing.
With PARCC and the Common Core, research is clearly a big part of the learning, and students must use what they have found to create a powerful argument on a topic. If you look at the Assessment Chart, you can see that a large project is the main assessment of skills under PARCC. Research and argument is at the heart of the expectations, as far as I can tell.
Talking with my colleagues made it clear we all have some work to do in this area. I think we are up for the challenge even as we are wary of the shifts in the political winds. We see the benefits of some of the changes — research is important; argumentative writing is powerful; literacy in all content area classes is crucial; etc. — yet we remain uncertain of where it will all shake out.
Peace (in the research),