SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta school district held a PARCC information session on Wednesday night.  The discussion was led by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development, Dr Melissa Varley.  With the district principals and supervisors also on the stage, she address the nearly 100 members of the audience in the auditorium of Sparta High School about the new mandated standardized test called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC.

Varley discussed the history and details about the implementation of the test.  She also discussed the PARCC as it relates to Sparta.  There has been controversy surrounding this test in other districts in NJ and throughout the country.  Varley addressed this saying, “We are not here to fight about mandates but to implement the mandates and leave the fight to those at the state.”  Throughout the presentation she continued to say to concerned parents, “I’m not here to fight with you. I am here to give information on the mandate.”

She said, “Here in Sparta we are ahead of most districts having been immersed in the Common Core for two and a half years.  Our students have the ammunition to take the PARCC and do well.”

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Varley explained that PARCC was developed by partners that include 200 higher education institutions and systems.  The PARCC will test the standards in the new Common Core State Standards adopted in New Jersey and 42 other states and the District of Columbia.  The Core was developed, in part, to address the concern of colleges and universities regarding the large numbers of students who were required to take remedial classes.

In discussing the differences between the previous standardized tests and PARCC she said, “We are doing tech prep not test prep.”  Students will take the PARCC on computers.  She was indicating the teachers are familiarizing students with how to manipulate the tools on the computer required for the tests. 

Many of the concerns expressed by parents was the requirement for students to be able to type when they have not had extensive keyboarding lessons.  Varley said a number of times that this was not a concern she had been getting from the teachers working with students in the classrooms.  She also said she asked the state Department of Education about this concern and that they responded “Students without typewriting skills will be okay on the test.” 

Varley also explained students would be able to create their response on paper first and then type it onto the computer if they are more comfortable with that writing process. 

A number of times Varley said there will likely be “glitches” as this is the first year of this test but that the district did practice tests that, “went off well.”  There was an additional infrastructure trial with 500 students throughout the entire district.  “There were some minor glitches but it went smoothly, “said Varley. 

There were questions about the testing time, especially as it related to typing, Varley said, “Last year the students who piloted the test finished in plenty of time.”

With regard to PARCC scoring Varley explained, the scores are not limited, as they were with the ASK.  They will be based on how the student actually did, not on a comparative percentage.

“We will use scores in-house, to evaluate the efficacy of the curriculum.  They will not be used for placement,” said Varley referring to the current situation.  In the future, they may be used for placement and will also be a part of the evaluation of staff including teachers, vice principals and principals. 

The PARCC is being administered in 13 states.  In New Jersey the test will not have impact on students until next year.  There is, however, pending legislation that would extend that trial period to three years.  In addition, the current seventh grade students will be the first class to be required to pass the PARCC in order to graduate. 

Varley reported colleges will not receive individual scores, but may get the high school profile. 

With regard to parents who wish to not have their students take the test Varley said, “students will have the option to sit and do quite activities like read and color but we will do not have the space or resources to provide a separate location for those who do not want to take the test.”

In response to a parent’s question Varley said there would not be any negative consequences to a student who did not take the test.  The district cannot opt-out because state aid is tied to having a set percentage of students sit for the test. “It is a significant amount that can’t be made up for in bake sales and car washes,” Varley quipped. 

One other issue Varley pointed out is that the timing of the tests is not optimal for NJ.  The test will be administered in two rounds: after 75 percent completion of the school year and 90 percent.  The problem is that many other states end their school year in May while in NJ schools remain in session well into June.  This means the percentages do not line up. 

“Our students are well prepared to do well.  We expect a growth period.  Will our scores go down?  Yes, but if they go down in Sparta they will also go down in [other high achieving districts].  As long as we are in line with other districts we will be fine.”