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Not Just a 'Glitch' - PARCC Testing Fails in East Brunswick and Statewide

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Hundreds of students and teachers were thrown off schedule by today's computer problems with the PARCC test. Credits: Pearson Education
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EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - An undefined computer problem caused the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers  (PARCC) assessments to be undeliverable at all locations in New Jersey today. Students and teachers in East Brunswick faced altered schedules and disrupted instruction due to corporate-level problems at Pearson Education, the developers and deliverers of the online testing program.

All over town, teachers and administrators scrambled to reschedule the test on Pearson’s promise of readiness.   As noted by Churchill Junior High School Principal Mark Sutor in an e-mail to parents this afternoon: “Pearson, the company that developed the PARCC, and the New Jersey Department of Education are working this evening to ensure the system will be operational prior to testing beginning tomorrow morning.“  New testing schedules are posted on individual school websites.

Deb Cornavaca, education activist and East Brunswick parent, was attending a meeting with New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe when the news came about problems with today’s testing.  (Cornavaca most recently spoke against PARCC at the April 14 meeting of the East Brunswick Board of Education.)  Today she responded to the Pearson snafu by saying, “The fact that there was a massive failure on the part of Pearson today causing statewide cancelation of PARCC testing should give pause to every parent, board of education member and superintendent. Districts have been forced to spend millions to prepare for PARCC and adjusted weeks of student learning. And Pearson cannot even implement the test properly. We are wasting time and money. It needs to stop.”  The activist will join other East Brunswick parents at the April 28 meeting of the BOE, during which there will be an opportunity for residents to speak about the PARCC specifically and the impact of standardized testing generally on the education program in our schools. 

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Misunderstanding about PARCC continues to be a concern for students, parents, and educators in East Brunswick and elsewhere.  At the April 14 BOE meeting, the attorney for the Board Matthew Giacobbe made it clear that PARCC is not a graduation requirement for students until 2021 (affecting students in the current seventh grade.)  Currently, PARCC is one of several avenues by which students can earn their diploma.  According to state law, PARCC is not a graduation requirement for students currently in grades 8 through 11.

In his statement released by the NJDOE late this afternoon, Commissioner Hespe stated, “I would like to thank all the educators and students in our districts for their flexibility, patience, and continued dedication to providing a positive testing experience for our students. We apologize for Pearson’s failures and we will hold Pearson accountable for today’s disruptions. We are committed to making sure such disruptions do not happen again.” He added, “We appreciate your continued leadership and tremendous efforts in ensuring a positive testing experience for your students.  The Department will continue to be engaged with Pearson on this issue and will hold Pearson accountable for their failures today.”  In the brief letter to districts, it was unclear what “hold Pearson accountable” means.

Laura Howe, Pearson’s Vice President for Media and Communications ,released the following statement regarding today’s failure: “Pearson is truly sorry for an issue this morning that caused a disruption for New Jersey families and their students and resulted in the cancellation of PARCC testing today in many school districts. We know that students and teachers have put in a tremendous amount of work to master the high academic standards set forth in New Jersey, and they deserve a smooth testing experience.

Every resource at our disposal is being directed toward identifying the cause of the problem and correcting it as soon as possible without creating any additional inconvenience. While our internal review into what went wrong is not yet complete, we’ve been able to ascertain that this was a technical glitch introduced by a Pearson employee — not a problem with server capacity or the student testing system.

Last night, in an effort to optimize performance of the test administration system used in New Jersey, Pearson made some adjustments that were deployed Tuesday night through Wednesday morning. In doing this, Pearson introduced an unexpected problem that restricted access to the administrative system. We are correcting the issue and will work to ensure it does not happen again.

We do apologize and continue to communicate with the New Jersey Department of Education with any and all updates.”   The fault with the testing, then, lay with a single employee of Pearson who adjusted the system, according to the Pearson spokesperson.  As a result, all New Jersey students in grade 3 to 11 lost a full day of instruction.

Laura Slover, CEO of PARCC Inc., the project manager for the PARCC assessment, stated, “We are disappointed by the disruptions in testing that were created today as a result of errors on the part of Pearson. These kinds of mistakes are unacceptable. 

The PARCC test is broadly considered the best assessment in the nation not only because of its industry-best capacity to accurately measure academic skills and knowledge, but also because of its superior technical quality. Since PARCC assessments were launched last year, over 17 million online PARCC tests have been successfully administered without disruption, including the 2.5 million tests this spring.   

Mistakes like the one that occurred today are indefensible. It is important to us that these tests be administered in a way that eliminates avoidable disruptions and inconveniences, and earlier today, leaders from New Jersey and PARCC Inc. delivered that message to Pearson in the strongest possible terms.”

Pearson Education was on the line today for its disturbance of students’ education, test delivery, and assessment implementation.  Called “indefensible mistakes,” “disruptions,” and “massive failures,” the enormous problems seem unlikely to have been caused by a “technical glitch introduced by a Pearson employee.”   Talk about being thrown under the school bus. 

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