MONTVILLE, NJ – Montville Township's 2015 PARCC state testing results were presented by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Casey Shorter and six Eagle Scouts were honored at the Montville Township Board of Education meeting on Dec. 1.
In 2010, new academic standards, called the Common Core Curriculum, were adopted in New Jersey in order to better prepare students for college and careers.
PARCC stands for “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers” and is a group of states that came together to develop a new state assessment which measures students’ learning of this new curriculum. All New Jersey school districts must administer this new assessment to students in grades three through eleven, and it replaces the HSPA and the NJ-ASK tests.
The objectives of the test include providing assessment information that can be used for instruction during the school year, and report growth in performance as well as “absolute achievement” as described by Shorter.
Differences between this assessment and previous testing include: computer administration; the ability for students to show their work; and the fact that it is not simply a multiple-choice test, so it allows students to “apply skills like thinking, reason and justifying answers” according to Shorter. Furthermore, these tests “do not lend themselves to ‘teaching to the test,’” according to Shorter, because the “focus is on applying skills. The daily practice of these skills in the classroom is what will serve students as the best preparation for the tests.”
Shorter warned parents that students’ scores may look lower this year because “the tests measured more complex skills, and the first year’s scores are a new baseline to measure against moving forward.”
“While the District has brought the curriculum up to the Common Core standards, teachers are still adjusting to the new materials and students are adjusting to the new way of receiving this material. Some of the methodologies have changed; there’s more ‘Problem-Based Learning’ and more technology-driven instruction, so teachers and students are still adjusting. It’s a process. We expect improvement in future years. It’s going to take time,” Shorter said.
The tests were administered in two waves in the spring of 2015, and the scores which the District received are a combination of the two waves. According to Shorter, education representatives from different states had to determine what the baseline for comparisons of students’ scores would be. Shorter stated the District has received “a number of score reports for grades three through eleven, and individual score reports for high school students” but the District has not yet received the grades three through eight individual score reports. They are expected to arrive in the next few weeks, and will be distributed to parents.
What Do the Results Mean?
Shorter said the results will be “more in-depth for parents,” and will tell the District “how the child falls in relation to the Common Core standards and expectations, and will provide teachers with more specific information about how they can help their students progress in areas identified by the testing as being in need of attention.”
The testing results will be in five “levels.” Prior testing indicated only three levels: “partially proficient,” “proficient,” or “highly proficient.” PARCC tests delineate:
Level 1 – not yet meeting grade-level expectations
Level 2 – partially meeting grade-level expectations
Level 3 – approaching grade-level expectations
Level 4 – meeting grade-level expectations
Level 5 – exceeding grade-level expectations
Shorter stated that some states had adopted level three as “meeting grade-level expectations.”
Shorter showed a sample English language arts score report and stated that the results letter will provide a lot more information for parents. Results letters will indicate the levels noted above, and a scaled score. It will also contain a school, district, state and PARCC average to which the parent can compare their child’s score. The PARCC average will compare a student’s performance to the eight states which participate in the testing consortium, down from about 26 at the program’s inception, according to Shorter. Reading and writing will be separated into different reports.
Shorter encouraged parents to view the video PARCC issued which helps explain the scores; the video and Shorter’s power point slide presentation can be viewed here: PARCC Scores Presentation
Comparison of Montville Township Students’ Scores to State Scores
Shorter showed English language arts/literacy test scores and most Montville scores were twenty percentage points higher than state scores. Then-juniors’ scores were four percentage points lower than the state, but only 35 juniors took the test. For grades three through eight, more than 200 District students took the test per grade. Shorter stated that the rest of the sub-group scores will follow in 2016.
District students’ math scores were at least eleven percentage points higher than state scores, and Lazar Middle School’s Algebra I students’ scores were a surprising 55% higher than state scores. Shorter attributed that to “a concentrated number of advanced students at Lazar took that test.”
Shorter said that the test scores will be used to “reflect upon strengths and gaps that exist in curriculum and instruction.
“Our District has many assessments that we use to evaluate programs and students, and this is another piece of that, which the District can use, hopefully effectively, to improve our instruction and meet the needs and weaknesses of our students,” he said. “These conversations will continue as we get more scores, from the central office to supervisors to the classroom: what do these data show? How can we use it to help our students improve and achieve higher levels?”
Shorter said that PARCC has released large portions of test questions, along with answers and rationale for scoring, which the District will use to be better informed about future test questions.
Board Members’ Questions
Board Member Michael Palma asked Shorter what was considered a “valid” test score, in case students had simply answered “A” to every question, and Shorter said that information will be more clear as more data is received.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. René Rovtar stated that students had to have taken both waves of the test to be considered “valid,” but there’s no “quality” measurement, so a student could in fact have simply entered “A” for all questions and still be considered “valid.”
Shorter further stated that 2016 testing will involve only one wave and will be reduced in total time by 90 minutes due to district feedback to testing officials.
Board Member Michael O’Brien asked if perhaps the test is “flawed” because of the learning curve cited in Shorter’s presentation. Shorter said he would not use that word. O’Brien also asked why so few then-juniors had taken the test, and high school senior and Student Representative to the Board Tasneem Amer stated that after so many standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT, students were “fed up” and didn’t want more tests. O’Brien asked what can parents who need help with interpretation of the results do, and Shorter stated they can contact the child’s guidance counselor.
Board Member Dr. David Modrak stated his disappointment at the large numbers of high school students who had “opted out” from the test and asked what could be done to encourage better participation. Shorter stated that in the future the results may be used to consider students for entrance into advanced programs. He further stated that “as parents see the data they can get, they may be more motivated not to ‘opt out’ their children.” Modrak asked if further resources would be provided to students based on test results and Shorter stated that would be decided in the future. Modrak further stated he was concerned that students are being overburdened with testing.
Board Member Michael Johnson asked how much weight should be given to these first-year scores, and Rovtar stated the 2015 scores will not be used for placement decisions but the 2016 scores will be used.
Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino asked if PARCC accurately tests curriculum the way it’s supposed to, and Shorter stated “The Common Core is asking our students to do things differently. I think the questions are designed to tap into what the Common Core is asking of our students. I think a lot of the questions are pretty good, and challenging. The questions are asking the kids to think critically and use various pieces of data to draw conclusions, which is the heart of Common Core.”
Palma asked if Governor Christie had rejected the Common Core Curriculum and Rovtar stated Christie asked the NJ Department of Education to review it, which is currently underway.
Six Scouts Achieve Eagle Rank
The Board honored six Township seniors from Boy Scout Troop 74 who recently achieved their Eagle Scout rankings. Each Scout was presented with a plaque showing a resolution by the BOE to honor him.
“We are honored to have not one or two, but six Eagle Scouts here tonight,” stated Cortellino. “That’s really unbelievable, because only a small percentage of Scouts make it to that level.”
Jonathan Abramson’s project involved creating an approximately half-mile long trail on Pyramid Mountain. His goal was to link one of the entrances to the mountain to the trail system. He and his volunteers built a new bridge and created a trail marked by natural “boundaries” and blue markings.
Daniel Ackaway’s project was to construct a trailhead kiosk structure for Montville’s Open Space Advisory Committee at Camp Dawson in Towaco. It encloses a bulletin board built onto the kiosk intended for display of trail map signage.
Thomas Ackaway organized a project that created two sports-themed recycling receptacles at Camp Dawson in Towaco, to make it a fun challenge for kids to dispose of their recycling.
Casey Hojecki's Eagle Project consisted of the design and installation of a historically accurate fence on the site of the Henry Doremus Home on Main Road in Towaco. The fence covers 330 linear feet and was constructed with the help of 19 volunteers.
Cameron Poole’s project honors Montville Township veterans by enhancing the VFW grounds. Poole reproduced and replaced plaques, installed mulch, plantings and a new bench. He resurfaced and painted the mailbox that is used for the proper disposal of decommissioned flags.
Brandon Wong renovated the 9/11 and Pan Am Flight 103 monument in the Community Park. Wong led his volunteers in removing old shrubs and mulch and relocating the existing monument to the front of the memorial circle. A Japanese maple tree was planted where the monument had been, and the Scout team added topsoil, ground cover and mulch. A Township-donated bench was also installed near the site.
Cortellino stated her “shout-out” to MTHS junior Rachel Levy, who sang a duet with actress, singer, and Grammy-award winner Kristen Chenowith on the television show “Broadway at The White House,” which aired on TLC network on Thanksgiving. “She is an amazing talent,” raved Cortellino.
Cortellino also offered kudos to District Supervisor of Humanities David Tubbs, who made a presentation regarding the District’s Humanities Research Program to the Morris County School Boards Association meeting. “They were rapt,” stated Cortellino. O’Brien stated that many individuals lined up after the presentation to speak with Tubbs regarding the program.
Member Mike Palma gave a shout-out to Tubbs too, regarding the recent District supervisor salary negotiations. “It was a good negotiation and a pleasure to work with you,” stated Palma.
Cortellino also thanked Rovtar for her attention to the high school’s wrestling program, to which Rovtar added, as promised, a third coach due to the number of students on the team.