About 60 parents and teachers turned out Wednesday night with complaints and concerns about the controversial PARCC exam during a public hearing by the PARCC Study Commission and NJ Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe in Jersey City.

A parent voices her concerns about the PARCC test during a hearing in Jersey City Wednesday. (David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

Hespe, who has backed out of participating in Thursday's 7 p.m. PARCC call-in program on New Jersey 101.5 , urged parents to reserve judgment about the test until after it is administered this spring.

He said once all the comments, suggestions and complaints are reviewed "we're charged by the governor with giving him a report by the summertime, laying out all of our recommendations."

During the hearing, one mother compared the launching of the PARCC test to the space shuttle Challenger disaster, telling members of the PARCC Study Commission "Trenton, we have a problem - PARCC is a catastrophe waiting to happen."

The parent also said many states have decided to dump the PARCC test and lamented "there aren't enough hearings and the outcome may be pre-determined - I hope not."

Another parent told the panel that teachers are "retiring in droves as the education system implodes," and their years of teaching and experience have been reduced to teaching to the test.

"Forcing students to regurgitate answers is not teaching," she said.

Another parent said the PARCC system has never been tested or proven. She added that overhauling the education should not be done by bureaucrats.

"PARCC is poorly designed and has no proven track record," the parent said. "Who would ever subject themselves voluntarily to a course of treatment that had never seen even one clinical trial? We are taking an untested cure for an imaginary disease.Our children are not lab rats, they are curious creative individual learners who should be allowed to flourish."

Another parent insisted "PARCC is an Orwellian recipe for disaster.I would ask that we let our teachers do what they do best, teach, not proctor a classroom."

"Precious instructional time is being lost, time that could be used for poetry, science or social studies, wasted on computer based testing logistics. There is a growing clamoring for this madness to stop, there is not a high performing industrialized country on this planet that subjects its children to even a tiny fraction of the standardized testing that we in the United States do."

The parents also questioned "why are we doing this, who are the financial beneficiaries of this debacle? We the people want out of the PARCC, it has been called institutionalized child abuse."

Another attendee added that "preparation for PARCC is replacing real learning with weeks of instructional time lost to preparation drudgery."

Hespe, who also leads the commission studying PARCC, said state officials will evaluate the success or failure of PARCC after the tests have been administered.

"We haven't administered the test yet, we haven't learned those lessons that we need to learn, and when we do we're either going to be very pleased that it did serve all the purposes that we believe it should and needs to serve, or it didn't, and if it didn't, we'll tweak it, if it did then we should celebrate," Hespe said.

He said having public hearings is very valuable.

"We want to learn from educators, from the public, from parents, what are your concerns, what do you think we're doing right, what do you think we need to do differently," Hespe said during last night's hearing.

But Hespe has backed out of a promised appearance on New Jersey 101.5 at 7 pm. tonight as part of a round table discussion of PARCC with other educators, including the president of the New Jersey Education Association. Listeners will be invited to call in with questions about the controversial test.

Last night, Hespe said the PARCC test can help teachers become better at their jobs.

"For the first time ever we have a direct tie-in between our tests and holding teachers accountable for improving student performance," he said, "are educators concerned and anxious about that? Yes, but we're going to be fair, we're going to be responsible and we're going to be seeing this as a productive way to help teachers.

According to the commissioner, there is a link between teachers and how their students perform on the test.

"(That's) driving a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern, we've seen as we've introduced tests in prior years that we always have this level of anxiety and concern," Hespe said.

Hespe urged parents to wait until after the test is administered to determine its effectiveness.

"Understand what your student experience with PARCC is going to be, understand what you can use PARCC for and the expectations for the data. Let's let this test be administered, lets learn from the administration, let's learn from the data, and then if necessary we'll adjust, we'll make accommodations," Hespe said. "The potential of this test in my mind is enormous, we haven't administered it yet, we don't have the data from it yet, and drawing so many conclusions so early is just not good for kids."