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The PARCC — New Jersey Standardized Testing

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New Jersey’s test tableau

Debuting this year is PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), one of two federally funded, multistate “consortia”-developed tests based on the recently adopted Common Core curriculum. The fledgling, computer-administered assessment — controversial in that several states once PARCC-aligned have decided against implementing it — will test once each year between 3rd and 8th grades, plus once in high school, in English and math. 

An additional science requirement, via the being-phased-out NJ ASK (Assessment of Skills and Knowledge), is also part of the regimen for grades 4 and 8. Other tests, like the CogATs (Cognitive Abilities Test) are given on a district basis but are not mandated.

Finally, high school juniors face non-mandatory but highly recommended SAT and/or ACT college entrance exams.

How are scores used?

That’s a lot of testing — and a ton of numbers to crunch.

In New Jersey, the state Department of Education creates school performance reports that look at growth over years, explains Julia Sass Rubin, PhD, associate professor at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and cofounder of the parent-advocacy group Save Our Schools NJ. Test scores have also been used to determine if students can graduate from high school, decide placements and even determine if a low-performing school should restaff or close. 

Because PARCC is so new, the New Jersey Assembly recently passed a bill that would delay the punitive or rewarding consequences of test scores on student placement or teacher evaluation for three years, beginning in school year 2015-16; the Senate has yet to vote on it.

The gamut of opinion

Given the way standardized testing affects their job — both day-to-day and in the long-term — teachers are closely monitoring the debate and coming down on both sides of the matter.
The New Jersey Education Association teachers’ union released four 30-second videos criticizing the impact standardized tests have on curriculum, student stress and school funding (click here to watch them). "This ad campaign gives parents and teachers a voice in a debate that's been dominated for too long by people with no connection to what's really happening in classrooms today," explained NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. 

Governor Chris Christie is advising a wait-and-see approach to the expensive test — expected to cost $108 million over its first four years of adminstration. "The fact is, people are opposed to PARCC and they haven't even taken it yet," Christie said. "It's hard for me to make a decision about whether PARCC works or doesn't work until I see what the results are. 

"When we get all that information, if we have to make changes, we will,” Christie continued. “But the bad thing would be to not test at all, in my view. If we don't test at all, we only depend on the subjective opinion of each classroom as to whether you're achieving or not and no standard way to see whether how you're learning at your particular school.”

“This conversation should not be about tests,” said David Hespe, commissioner of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. “Tests should not be the highest elevation of what we aspire to in education — learning is. Our PARCC assessment will become only one tool towards accomplishing this larger goal of improving student learning. We so often lose the context that education so badly requires.”

Next page: objections raised and the opt-out movement

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