ESSEX COUNTY AREA, NJ - As the first week of PARCC testing winds down, the future of the controversial standardized test in New Jersey education remains very much in question.
The PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test is a standardized test that is aligned to the Common Core Standards first adopted by New Jersey in 2011. It ostensibly a more thorough and rigorous type of examination than previous statewide tests, such as the NJ ASK.
According to its official website, the PARCC test gives teachers, administrators and parents data that can determine “whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school.”
Parent and education groups have criticized the PARCC test for containing overly difficult and ambiguous questions, for detracting from regular instructional time and for putting undue pressure on students. The rollout and implementation of the test has also come under fire, as has the plan to use the data for teacher evaluation and student placement.
While there are implementation and technological issues specific to PARCC, concern over standardized testing and the prospect of over-testing in general have also been prevalent on parent Facebook groups including Livingston Opts Out, Opt Out NJ, Fairfield NJ Cares About Our Schools, Opt Out Essex County, Opt Out NJ - Choose2Refuse, and more.
In February, the state General Assembly voted resoundingly (63 to 7) to delay using data from the tests in student and teacher evaluations until at least the 2018-19 school year. The bill must still be passed in the state Senate; the current plan is to implement evaluations starting in the 2015-16 school year.
Several area administrators expressed support for the measure put forth by the assembly.
Livingston Public Schools Interim Superintendent Jim O’Neill released a statement saying that using PARCC test results for even a partial evaluation of teachers would be educationally unsound and detrimental to the efforts of teachers and the instruction of students.
“To take this untested and unproven test and to use it to help evaluate teachers is not only a terrible disservice to the complexity of teaching but is an entirely inappropriate use of test results,” O’Neill said. “The key characteristics of great teachers are humanity, motivation, integrity, innovation, creativity, promoting self-learning; none of which is measured by the PARCC test.”
The Livingston Board of Education also passed a resolution that encouraged the state government and Department of Education to reconsider the implementation and organization of the test. The resolution also stated that the PARCC in its current form will not be used for teacher evaluation and student placement.
The resolution stated that “the rush to implement PARCC in an unreasonable timeframe has created organizational stresses including budgetary impacts, technological constraints, and reallocation of staff and other resources” and “PARCC preparation and administration will disrupt the school calendar and result in excessive reduced instructional time in the classroom.”
West Orange Superintendent of Schools Jeff Rutzky also said that he supported the measure to delay using the data in an evaluation capacity.
“There wasn’t a true pilot for the [PARCC tests] last year; we don’t know what the results are going to be,” Rutzky said. “I think a lot of the concern comes from the fact that PARCC is new. Anything new is challenging and scary. By making it a pilot for the first year, the unknown becomes less scary.”
Rutzky said that he believes PARCC data could eventually prove useful in teacher and student evaluation.
“As with anything, you have to adjust and tweak things. After two or three years, you should enough longitudinal data to use.”
When Rutzky spoke with TAP on Tuesday, he said that no problems had been reported as far as students actually taking the test. “Students were doing fine in the environment, they were comfortable with what they had to do. I spoke to the building principals and our technology director and everything was very smooth.”
“I think over-testing students is a very, very bad thing. We should look at the quality of assessments, not the quantity,” Rutzky said. “You have to see whether kids are making progress or not. I believe in quality assessments that can measure data to make instructional changes.”
The North Caldwell Board of Education devoted a recent meeting to allaying parental concerns regarding the test.
“Parents were very concerned about making sure that the schools appropriate managed expectations for the children,” North Caldwell Board of Education member Jann Skelton said.
“We really wanted to de-emphasize the importance of the test relative to the instruction the students receive,” Board member Rob Projansky said. “We hold very high standards for our children, but obviously we don’t want them to feel like this is the end of the world.”
The North Caldwell Board also struck a balance in attempting to dealt with parents who decided to not have their children take the test. The validity and legality of the “opt-out” movement has been a subject of discussion among teachers, parents and administrators Projansky said.
“Frankly, the [state] regulations are a little unclear about it works. They say that there is no official ‘opt-out’ policy, but by the same token it’s our responsibility to accommodate the wishes of parents,” Projansky said. “We can’t make a value judgement about whether opting-out is good or bad. It’s not up to us to opine on that.”
The North Caldwell Board elected to place non-testing students in a separate room from testing students. The non-testing students are permitted to bring homework or reading materials but do not receive any instruction.
While the immediate future and form of the PARCC test remains unclear, it remains likely that standardized tests will continue to play a role in educational evaluation.
“Standardized testing has been around for a very long time and it will be around for a very long time,” Rutzky said. “What we have to do is make sure that we’re not relying on tests too much. We have internal benchmarks we want to assess. In the end, the instruction is the most important thing.’