TRENTON, NJ – The Assembly and Senate Education committees held a joint hearing on Monday to hear from the Commissioner of Education about the proposed changes being considered for the PARCC test as part of a plan by the Murphy administration to transition to a different statewide assessment. The committees sought to ensure that the proposed changes do not interfere with the delivery of education in the state. The committees also invited New Jersey Commissioner of Education Dr. Lamont Repollet to discuss the department’s current policy.
“Today’s joint hearing was a good beginning but certainly not the last conversation on how we move forward to raise the bar on school assessments and evaluations in the state of New Jersey. That is why I look forward to bringing together key stakeholder groups with the Department of Education to work together on determining the best course of action” stated Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who Chairs the Senate Education Committee.
The PARCC test, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, has been a contentious issue since it was implemented in 2015. The Department of Education now plans to transition towards a new statewide assessment. The transition, according to the department, will be made in phases to ensure smooth implementation in schools and assure compliance with current state and federal mandates. Significant proposals include reducing the number of required tests in high school from 6 to 2; ensuring that educators and parents receive test data in a timely manner; providing flexibility for the first-year English language arts tests in high school; reducing the length of the testing for all grades by 25 percent; and reducing the weight of the assessment on teacher evaluations. Those plans were placed on hold last week by the state Board of Education.
The PARCC test has been criticized by parents and educators for being too confusing and time consuming. Critics charge that the exam took away from valuable instruction time, and that it was unfair to make it a graduation requirement for students. Governor Murphy has made it clear that he does not favor PARCC in its current form, a message he reiterated during last year’s campaign and again earlier this year. "The notion of assessing kids to make sure we understand how they're doing, I'm all in for that," Mr. Murphy said in January. "But these big, white-knuckle, once-a-year, with lots of weeks getting folks tuned up to take a particular test I'm not a fan of. Never have been."
Proponents of the exam have argued that the PARCC test provides measurable data points that are beneficial for the educational system. In 2016, a State Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments concluded that "it will be impossible to effectively close achievement gaps between and among students without accurate and actionable information." Echoing these sentiments, Assembly Education Chair Pamela Lampitt (D-Burlington) said “while education has placed an overemphasis on standardized testing in recent years, these assessments still serve as a critical tool in gauging student growth, and are one of the only objective measures in assessing teacher performance,” in a statement issued on Monday.
“NJ has one of the best public education systems in the country and any assessment must provide the data to help ensure that our schools are providing high-quality education,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex/Hunterdon) in the statement. Mr. Zwicker is also a member of the Assembly Education Committee. “As we change our approach to standardized testing in NJ, we have to make sure that we do it in a sensible, evidence-based, and meaningful way” he added.