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PARCC Makes Speaking-and-Listening Test Optional

Alexandria, Va.

The PARCC testing consortium decided Friday to make the speaking-and-listening section of its test optional for states for at least two years.

The move came in a unanimous vote by the consortium's governing board. The decision means that PARCC's member states will allow districts to decide whether to administer the portion of the test that measures one particular set of skills in the Common Core State Standards: how well students absorb information by listening, and how well they communicate that knowledge orally.

PARCC will revisit the issue in two years to see whether the speaking-and-listening portion of the test should be made a required part of the PARCC exams.

The consortium's grant from the U.S. Department of Education required it to design a test of speaking and listening skills, and to administer it to students, but it states were not required to include those scores in the overall summative score on the test.

As the consortium considered adding the speaking-and-listening scores into the total score for the test, PARCC discovered that it needed more time to research the best ways to do that, chief executive officer Laura Slover told the governing board. 

"To do this well will take some time," she said. "We're already in an environment of pressure with regard to [testing] time, and we want to deescalate it."

PARCC obtained the permission of the U.S. Department of Education to make the speaking-and-listening portion of the test optional for the next two years, she said, but department officials told consortium leaders that they "will continue to pressure PARCC and states to make sure speaking and listening get measured," she said.

Because the consortium will continue to examine how to administer the speaking-and-listening tests, "this is a pause in the approach, not a total about-face," Slover said.

The key issue, as outlined for the governing board, was the difficulty of standardizing an assessment that is designed to be built into daily classroom instruction. Doug Sovde, who is overseeing the non-summative part of the PARCC test design, said the speaking and listening tests require "authentic performance" by students, and probably an as-yet-undetermined amount of additional testing time.

With a current estimate of eight to 10 hours for PARCC tests, and strong currents of public opposition to time spent testing, that's an issue that is prominent on the minds of PARCC leaders as they edge closer to operational testing in the coming months.

As originally envisioned, the speaking and listening tests would come in two forms. Students in grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 would listen to a prerecorded speech or a media production and respond spontaneously to questions. Students in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10 would conduct research on a topic and share their findings orally in class. Both types would be scored by educators, and are intended to inform daily classroom instruction.

Late last month, PARCC shortened the English/language arts portion of its test by dropping some reading passages and accompanying questions.

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