The results of PARCC, the new state standardized test for elementary and high school students, are in. And they are dismal.

Is it that the test is more rigorous to correspond to the critical thinking skills emphasized in the new Common Core curriculum? Or that a startling number of parents and students opted out of taking the test at all? Could it be that some critics are correct and the test was simply too long? Or maybe after decades of pushing school districts to include remedial and special ed kids in standardized testing that on the PARCC the lack of active participation by all students drove down scores? Finally, perhaps, we are collectively fed up with the time, the effort, the curriculum-curving instruction, and the overemphasis on results that standardized testing represents.

Pick your explanations. Mix or match them. But on the first go-round, the PARCC testing regime is a botch.

At RB, students did worse than the state average on the test, which was administered last spring. That was a shock. The school’s explanation, in part, was that the PARCC lacks direct implications for individual students. It isn’t linked to college test scores, for instance. That led to some students opting out and, says Principal Kristin Smetana, a lackadaisical effort by some students who took the test. 

We have long seen standardized testing as a necessary evil. There are far better and more continual tools to assess the progress an individual student is making through the course of a school year. Standardized tests give us an imperfect snapshot of the whole student body and allows us to slice data to measure the headway made by various subgroups of students. This is the accountability essential to facing up to issues such as the academic gap between black and white students. 

But the PARCC can only be useful if a variety of ways are found to make sure nearly every student in every sector of a school district takes the test and treats it seriously.