EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Since the election of Democratic Governor Philip Murphy who campaigned by saying he would get rid of high-stakes standardized testing, the New Jersey Department of Education has wrestled with a means of exiting from or phasing out the PARCC testing program that has been in place in grades three through eleven since 2014 as a centerpiece of student assessment. PARCC has drawn fire from parents, students, and teachers due to its real or perceived impact on student placement; teacher evaluations; school system reviews, and, perhaps most importantly, graduation requirements. In East Brunswick, there has been an ongoing effort to resist PARCC, which has required not only a great deal of time to prepare for, but also a good deal of time to take. Now that PARCC has been back-burnered, what lies ahead for East Brunswick students as they prepare for graduation this year?
In an interview with TAPinto East Brunswick, Superintendent Dr. Victor Valeski said that "the district would stay the course" with testing, as advised by the NJDOE. "We will stick with what we are invested in," Valeski added, noting that districts statewide are awaiting a final decision on the status of the PARCC as a requirement for graduating classes beyond 2020. "My message to parents is that we do not want to put students in danger of not graduating." When asked about the state's plans, Valeski said, "We are 100% in limbo."
What East Brunswick "is invested in" are the guidelines presented by the state on its website. Students from East Brunswick High School this year can meet graduation assessment requirements through any of these three pathways: (1) Achieve passing scores on high school level PARCC assessments; (2) Achieve appropriate scores on alternative assessments such as the SAT, ACT, or ACCUPLACER; or (3) Submit, through the district, a student portfolio appeal to the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).
For the class of 2020, students can graduate if they have achieved passing scores on the PARCC Algebra 1 and ELA Grade 10 assessment or by passing college entrance exams or a few other assessment types named by the state (see guidelines) or, again, by submitting a portfolio.
Beyond that (for now) students in the Class of 2021 and following, will need to pass the state standardized test for Algebra 1 and ELA Grade 10.
Therefore, any student who has passed the PARCC in Grade 11 (and completed all the coursework and attendance requirements) is ready to graduate this June. Students who have taken college entrance or placement exams and have scored at a prescribed level can walk in that long green line, too. Some students may also go through the complex process of submitting an individual protfolio to be evaluated by the state to get their diploma. Students who "opted out" of PARCC last year (and there were many in East Brunswick over the past three years) will not be penalized if they took the college entrance tests and earned acceptable scores.
Federal laws – the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - require that students take an annual assessment. The implementation of standardized testing is not a decision made by any individual school district or state.
Standardized testing has been a part of New Jersey's educational structure since the 1970's, but the question of what specific tests lie ahead is still undefined. Dr. Valeski noted that the testing will likely remain in an online format but the particular PARCC model will be replaced. "New Jersey owns many of the questions on the PARCC, if not the structure of the tests," said Valeski.
Moving forward, students in grades 3-11 in the East Brunswick Public Schools will participate in the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment starting in April and May . As in the past, the assessments will evaluate student progress in Math and ELA and at some grade levels in Science. The NJSLA is a shorter test with many questions pulled from the PARCC test bank.
With regard to the time spent on test preparation in the EB Schools, Dr. Valeski said, "We will do what we do any day. We will rely on strong instructional delivery. We will not spend a great deal of time on preparing for tests. The tests occur within a tighter window of time. They take less time and there are fewer questions"
Some additional complaints lead to the overwhelming unpopularity of PARCC, like the cost of purchase, installation, and training to use a good deal of technology. "We bought the technology for students to use, and it was used for PARCC, but it has not been used for testing alone," said Valeski.
He noted that taking an assessment on a piece of technology was "spot on" at Central School, a success he credits to Nicole Tibbetts, Director of Curriculum and Student Achievement, Central's former principal.
Will teacher assessments be impacted by the flux around the format and meaning of the standardized tests? "No," said Valeski. "No East Brunswick teachers have been negatively impacted with regard to employment, tenure, or compensation due to student test scores." This fact was seconded by Dr. Dana Zimbicki, President of the East Brunswick Education Association, who told TAPinto East Brunswick that the testing has not affected teacher evaluation.
The takeaway? East Brunswick students are in good shape this year, with no projected conflicts for graduation based on testing. Next year looks good also. The upcoming years rely on the development of a state assessment system that incorporates an online test based on the New Jersey Standards that does not require much preparation outside of the curriculum and does not take too long to complete, with a turnaround time that makes it useful for informing instruction and evaluating progress. Until then, says Valeski, "we are waiting like everyone else for a definitive answer."