In the past three years, my school district has participated in conducting the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test with students in grades three through twelve. As a computer teacher at the elementary level, I have been a critical part of the testing team. I have seen the practice tests and even the actual PARCC test. In many ways, this test is radically different from anything our students have encountered before. Gone are the paper answer sheets with oval answers to be shaded in with number two pencils. Today’s students are tasked with not only demonstrating content knowledge in deeper, more complex ways, but also with navigating these new digital testing environments. For many students, particularly our elementary students, the sheer task of navigating the test itself is new and intimidating.

I chose third grade specifically as my research group because this was the first year that those students take the PARCC test. Not only are third graders our youngest PARCC participants, but they are also the most immature in regard to technology skills. Additionally, I identified this grade level as my focus group because the third grade teachers have expressed concerns that navigating the technology may impede their students’ ability to answer the content.

For this reason, I worked with and studied three third grade classes in my school, which was a total of sixty students.  I wanted to determine if preparing for the technology skills related to test navigation of the PARCC test is a necessary and relevant endeavor. These ideas led to my three research questions:

1) What are the prerequisite skills for students to successfully access and use this computer-based assessment known as the PARCC test?

2) Does the pre-teaching of specific test navigation skills benefit the students?

3) What effect does pre-teaching of these technology skills have on classroom teachers’ attitudes regarding their students’ experience with the PARCC test?

As students came to my computer class, I explained that I was purposely asking them to take PARCC practice tests (on the TestNav site) without any assistance from me. I explained that I was not interested in their actual knowledge or ability to answer the question correctly, but as their computer teacher I was curious about their comfort level with navigating the test itself. I did show the students the icon and how to access the test, but then I stood back and simply observed. Students were free to ask me any questions as they explored the tests, and I wrote each of these questions as a list in a notebook. I also occasionally pointed to buttons, icons, or items on a page and asked students to identify their purpose. Again, I listed everything that students said. I also took note of what students did seem to know. I had students practice typing open-ended response questions in text boxes and noted their ability and speed as well as their overall understanding of how much they thought would suffice as an answer. I occasionally asked students to use a tool that was not obvious on the screen, and listed those that students were able to use or not use when prompted.

After looking through all of this data, I found that all of those skills that were extrapolated from my research fell into four distinct categories.  I present this graphic and data as a template for teachers to use in the future as a checklist of PARCC-specific test-taking skills that should be taught specifically.

If you have a chance to explore the practice tests with your own classes, I encourage you to conduct similar experiments to determine the specific skills that your students need.  If you come across any additional skills that aren’t listed here, I’d love to hear from you!

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @kerszi, on my Facebook page called Integration Innovation, or here on the blog!