There’s a lot going on with standardized PARCC tests in New Jersey schools – so much so that the Senate and Assembly education committees brought state Department of Education officials to the Statehouse for a hearing to explore just what’s going on.

PARCC exams are eventually being replaced, though that’s a two to three years process. In the short term there are plans to scale them back – less time and, in high school, fewer tests. They are no longer as important in evaluating some teachers. And changes to graduation rules that enhanced their importance by eliminating alternate routes to a diploma may be reversed.

Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said end-of-the-year PARCC assessments aren’t needed in high school and that too many standardized tests are given.

“It gets to a point: When are we going to start preparing them for life after high school? And a PARCC assessment in the junior and senior year is not preparing a student for the real world,” Repollet said.

Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, D-Camden, said if too much is changed at the same time, it’s not possible to know if one change, such as shortening the test, would have been enough to meet the needed goal.

“Rolling back the PARCC test basically to the federal minimum standards is not going to continue to move New Jersey and our New Jersey students in the right direction,” Lampitt said.

The state Board of Education delayed voting on some of the proposed changes, including the ones affecting graduation requirements, last week.

Senator Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, wants it to delay voting until at least November and says she will invite groups to meetings to do work behind closed doors on a long-term plan for changes to standardized testing.

Stan Karp, director of the Education Law Center’s Secondary Education Reform Project, said the delayed changes are needed because alterations now in place adopted in 2016 jeopardize the graduation prospects for tens of thousands of students.

“If the state board does not fix these rules, we will ask the courts to repeal them. Either way, they have to go,” Karp said.

The changes to the graduation rules make it more difficult for a current senior or junior who doesn’t pass the math or language arts test to qualify through their score on an alternate exam, such as the SAT, by requiring them to first repeatedly try to pass the PARCC.

Starting with the Class of 2021, the current sophomores, the alternate test pathway is no longer available, though students can submit a portfolio of their work through a state appeals process.

Lawmakers also asked pointed questions about the state reducing, from 30 percent to 5 percent, how much weight would be given in assessing some teachers to the year-to-year gains their students make in PARCC scores.

Even when student scores on standardized tests accounted for 30 percent of some teachers’ evaluations, a little less than 2 percent of teachers were ever rated less than less effective, said Assistant Commissioner Linda Eno.

But Eno said the weighting was reduced because it’s an equity and fairness issue. Improvement in student scores on the PARCC exam is used only for math and language arts teachers between grades 4 through 8.

“When we have an evaluation system that is bifurcated, where 20 percent of educators are held heavily accountable for the results of high-stakes assessment, you create a cultural impact,” Eno said.

Ruiz says it’s “extraordinarily difficult” to understand why the use of students’ test scores in assessing teachers was reduced to levels below even what was used when the program started, rather than come up with a way to enhance evaluations of other teachers.

“The truth of the matter is an evaluation piece is never set up to fire someone,” Ruiz said. “The evaluation piece – at least in my mind, when I helped to create the law – was to be sure that we had a resource mechanism to have a real-time check-in with the professional to say, ‘You need help in this, I’m going to match you up.’”

Education consultant Stefani Hite, who is working on the teacher evaluation issue with the New Jersey Education Association, disagrees with Ruiz.

“This evaluation system, the regulations that are in place, were designed with a negative presupposition that we’re looking to find and fire poor teachers,” Hite said. “It was not designed to encourage professional growth and to encourage teachers to be supportive of students.”


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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