WESTFIELD, NJ — Next month marks the fourth year the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) will be administered at Westfield High School. Unlike in previous years, WHS will no longer provide the opt-out option, making the test mandatory for all students from grades 9-11.
The test will take place next month, from April 16-23. Students from grades 9-11 will test each day from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by a five period block schedule with a common lunch period.
First administered in the 2014-2015 school year, PARCC came into New Jersey schools to keep up with Common Core State Standards. The test was created in a deal between the for-profit British education company, Pearson, and the New Jersey Department of Education in a contract costing around $108 million. The assessment tests students on English Language Arts (ELA) as well as Math.
“In the case of PARCC, the Federal Department of Education wanted a core of common standards in place to emphasize a certain level of college and career readiness for all students in all states,” Westfield Board of Education President Gretchen Ohlig said. “PARCC was an interstate initiative intended to measure growth year to year but not just for students, for teachers in as many states as possible.”
Critics argue that PARCC takes away from valuable class time, is confusing and an ineffective measure of students’ knowledge. Many students question the test they are now forced to take.
“I think, unlike many other standardized tests like the ACT or SAT, PARCC testing doesn't have a purpose,” WHS sophomore Eric Elizes said. “It is an unnecessary benchmark and takes away from the students’ curriculum. I don't even know what they use it for.”
Newly elected Governor Phil Murphy has promised to eliminate PARCC testing.
“Phil Murphy is committed to ending New Jersey’s reliance on PARCC tests and eliminating standardized testing as a requirement for graduation,” Governors Murphy’s website reads. “He also would eliminate passage of a standardized test as a graduation requirement.”
PARCC test scores affect the schools’ state ranking. These state rankings are not true indications of what WHS is truly academically capable of, officials say, because a large percentage of the student population chose to opt-out of the test. According to an NJDOE performance report, Westfield High School is in the “Needs Improvement” zone for math, rating only 17 percent proficient. In English, the school is rated 44.9 percent proficient, only five percent away from qualifying for “needs improvement.”
WHS Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson explained how these inaccurate rankings can hurt the school’s and town’s reputations.
“Let's say you’re a family from California, and you’re moving to New Jersey,” Nelson said. “You're looking for places to live, and you don't know anything about Westfield or any neighborhoods. People may look to the state Department of Education website to get a feel for the schools. What would it say about Westfield High School? There's no disclaimer saying that 60 percent of the population opted out.”
Standardized tests have been taken at WHS for years. From 1983 to 2015, WHS students were required to take the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), which tested students in similar subject areas such as ELA, writing and math, much like the PARCC.
“We’ve always had testing at the high school level,” Nelson said. “It’s not like testing at the high school is a new concept. Governor Murphy has said he was going to try to do away with PARCC or come up with something different, but even if they were going to do away with it and throw PARCC out the window, it would still be replaced with something else.”
Despite WHS mandating the test, PARCC may likely be gone for good soon in New Jersey schools.
“The [school] board recognizes that the PARCC assessment takes a significant amount of time away from instruction and we look forward to learning more about an alternative assessment and changes from the state,” Ohlig said. “Initially, more than 20 states signed on for PARCC testing. New Jersey is one of two or three remaining and it looks like 2018 testing will be our last. ”
Daniel Han is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.