More and more New Jersey parents and teachers are expressing concerns about Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the new standardized test to be given to all students in grades three through 11 in March and again in May.

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The primary concerns are that the test is too long and stressful, and that the preparation is taking too much time away from other classroom activities.

New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe is trying to assure parents, students and educators that the PARCC test is both valuable and necessary.

Hespe said it's understandable that parents are concerned about their children's education but the issue of test-taking, and what is appropriate is nothing new in New Jersey. He said the state has had its annual assessments for many years and for a variety of reasons some students have refused to participate in the testing.

"For decades, schools have handled these situations quite well. They apply their own local policies and they work through it with the parents and the students; they know what to do," he said. "Rarely do we see disciplinary measures being taken against a student, we won't force a student to take a test necessarily."

Hespe's recommendation to local school officials is to communicate with parents and other stakeholders in the community and explain why it's so important for their children to participate in the testing program.

"Tests like the PARCC help parents get the data they're looking for," he said. "They want to know what their child does well, where they struggle and how they can help their child succeed, and that's the most important point for school districts to remember."

Hespe said half of all students who graduate from high school are not capable of doing college level work or able to go into a career.

"They're just not prepared to do that and they get upset and angry, so we need a comprehensive test to let us know if students are prepared for the next phase of their lives," Hespe said. "If we don't do that we're doing a disservice to our children. We need to be able to clearly see whether or not we're achieving those outcomes that our children need, and that's what we're doing now, we're measuring how well we achieved our academic goals."

The commissioner also said there was a lot of concern about over-stressing students 15 years ago when fourth-graders were first given standardized tests.

"We made the case of intervening early in a student's academic career, so they can graduate successfully. The test was given and parents and teachers saw the value of it and the students did just fine," he said.

Hespe said the PARCC test will be broken up into two segments: one will be delivered in March, the other in May, "and then those segments are broken up into multiple days of testing, so a student is not going to sit behind a computer screen taking a test for nine hours, that's just not the way it works."

The bottom line, Hespe said, is that schools need to communicate with the parents and "make sure parents understand exactly what the testing experience is going to be, and understand the value of the tests. We don't want students opting out of the test, out of college or opting out of a career."