Education

As West Orange Public Schools Prepare for PARCC, Controversy Grows

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WEST ORANGE, NJ - The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) state testing, set to replace the current NJ Ask Public School testing for grades 3-11, is coming under fire--from its supporters.

Feedback from school districts across the nation participating in the PARCC assessment, as well as the educators who have helped to develop the assessment, are quickly realizing that it may not be ready for its nationwide launch in 2015.

The biggest requirement of the PARCC: a computer or a laptop to take the test on, is proving to be the biggest issue. The astronomical cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase computers,laptops, Ipads and tablets for schools, is, according to West Orange Interim Superintendent James O'Neill, "the costliest unfunded mandate in public school history." Computer training needs to be stepped up in the lower grades prior to the PARCC practice and tutorials. West Orange is slightly ahead of the curve compared to other districts, but still has nowhere near what would be needed for entire grades to test on multiple subjects.

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"We have great concern about children in the elementary schools having the ability to know a keyboard, write an essay online, and have the practice and time necessary to test online," said O'Neill in an interview with The Alternative Press. "The PARCC could become a test that measures the skill of how a child can enter information, and not what they know."

In addition, schools will have to have their buildings wired to handle the electrical capacity and internet wiring.

O'Neill also expressed concern about the personal tracking of students, including their names, addresses, family information, student ID Numbers and other personal information. In addition to their school grades, state test scores, and more, would create a "Traveling Data Kit" that could be accessed no matter where that student moved, when they graduated, or what schools they attended.

O'Neill stood firm in his conviction that the "greatest indicator of success in college was a student's grades in high school." In addition, he noted, "standardized tests do not measure a student's creativity, ingenuity, perservance, honesty, and character, things which make a student a productive and successful adult".

O'Neill was asked if a parent could refuse to have their child take the PARCC. His answer was, yes, but they would have to keep their child out of school during the testing and the makeup testing, because the district was mandated to administer it.  

Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Lousiana, Maryland, Massachussetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee are "PARCC states." These states decided to pursue an alternative to the No Child Left Behind and its proficiency requirements to develop their own in 2010. 

In 2010, New Jersey adopted new Common Core standards (CCSS). West Orange schools are currently aligned with the common core standards, but many of the other PARCC states are not. New Jersey joined PARCC in 2010, and the expectation was that the first PARCC would be administered in 2014 or 2015. NJ students have continued to take the NJ Ask in the meantime.

Pilot schools representing a cross section of the participating states are beginning to provide feedback about the PARCC, with four schools in West Orange (WOHS, Mt. Pleasant, Gregory and Roosevelt) participating. Grades 3-8 would take PARCC assessments similar to NJ Ask, Math and Language Arts. Assessments and requirements for high school students are slightly different. (The HSPA, a general high school proficiency test given in Junior year, is separate from PARCC, though an overhaul of HSPA can also be expected by 2016.)

On March 27, the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education/New Jersey Higher Education Leadership Team, held a Statewide Postsecondary Convening for All New Jersey Colleges and Universities at Rider University, to provide and receive updates on the PARCC from college educators. These educators were approached in 2010 by the developers of PARCC to advise, support and partner with their efforts.

Said one New Jersey Mathematics professor who has until recently advocated for the PARCC, the original concept was, and is, a good one: that students entering college did not have the skills in mathematics or language arts that their school GPAs reported, and did not fare well in basic skills testing. While there are always factors that can determine test scores: a student that does not test well; home environment; personal issues; etc., the concern of college educators was that not all school districts are created equal when it comes to grading students.

The ideal concept of PARCC was to provide an indicator of a child's development and progress throughout a school year.  It was not one of the goals of the developers to penalize or punish teachers for students' difficulties.

The professor, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that New Jersey was acknowledged as the 'premier' state' when it came to academic rigor. However, the postsecondary educators from various towns across the state came to the meeting with a mixed bag of issues that had no easy answers.

The professor, who has a daughter that is piloting PARCC testing in her third grade classroom, was concerned about the feedback and observations received about the testing process. The following issues were reported:

"Difficulty comprehending the instructions (e.g. vocabulary too difficult for a third grader to grasp); difficulty in navigating on the computer screen and lack of differentiation for the different steps in a math or writing task.  There was an inadequate amount of tutorial training for both students and teachers prior to the testing.  

The setup of the reading component on the screen was confusing to the students, who all answered incorrectly as a result; students need to understand how to type on a keyboard, use toggles, and arrow keys.

Videos were incorporated into the series of comprehension questions on a reading passage. There are no differentiated directions for special needs students. 

Computer stations in a lab are so cramped they did not allow comfortable access for students. Directions for answering questions were 'hidden in the text' in 5-7 'steps'. Clicking and dragging is a requisite of the testing and the tutorial provided no instructions regarding highlighted passages.  Concerns were raised about childrens' abilities to test at this level in the afternoons."

In addition to the concerns noted by the third grade teacher, concerns noted by West Orange Superintendent O'Neill were echoed by educators across the state.  

The college professor, a lifetime mathematics educator, along with the colleagues that attended the March 27 convening, believed that the PARCC testing would not be ready for administration in 2015.  A primary concern was that there would be nothing to compare the PARCC to.  It would be unfair to compare PARCC to NJ Ask.  

Did the online testing component need to be dropped? Original thinking centered on alleviating the possibility of cheating.  However, many of the states were not even close to having the online capaibilities of administering the test. What happens if a student cannot use a computer?  What happens if the computer freezes or there is a power surge during testing? Would a student be able to change an answer?

Several of the PARCC states had not even converted to the Common Core standards.  How could they take the PARCC, which is aligned to them, with the other states at the same time?

Would it be better to continue to track the pilot schools over a two or three year period to "work out the kinks" in the PARCC first? Educators at the meeting seemed to feel that should be a consideration. This would help to establish some sort of baseline for PARCC testing as well.

None of these questions were answered, along with several others, at the meeting.  PARCC has yet to convene with elementary, middle school, and high school educators, and tensions were already high at the March 27 meeting.  

When asked whether Governor Chris Christie, who has to this point, refused New Jersey additional time to 'work out the kinks' and wanted it in place statewide by 2015, the professor noted "This is not a political issue, this is an educational issue, and all the Governors had to sign on to put PARCC in place."

If the designers of the PARCC and the educators are not sure it will be ready to launch in 2015, a Governor cannot force it, especially since the states operate as a consortium of sorts, according to the Alternative Press' source.

A series of links to PARCC-related information is attached to this article as a JPEG.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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