Make PARCC mandatory to graduate, Christie commission says
New Jersey students should have to continue taking controversial PARCC exams to graduate — and should have to pass them beginning in 2021 — a panel Gov. Chris Christie ordered to study student testing in New Jersey said Monday.
The panel's report makes 49 recommendations for standardized testing in New Jersey — but withdrawing from the exam, as several other states have done, wasn't among them.
Instead, several recommendations focus on ratcheting down the anger around PARCC, improving frayed relationships among community members, educators and policy makers.
The commission wrote "anxiety and fear levels surrounding this issue remain palpable and appear to have formed at least part of the basis for the anti-PARCC television, radio, and print advertisements, which arguably appear to have contributed significantly to the parent opt-out movement in spring 2015."
"A lack of trust between policymakers and educators and the abundance of misinformation seem only to add to this atmosphere of anxiety and fear," the commission continued. "Therefore, many of the recommendations that follow focus on improving the relationships between policymakers and educators and on building educator confidence that the State’s educational system appropriately uses assessments to foster learning."
Last spring, parents throughout the state opted their children out of the exams, despite concerns doing so might jeopardize some funding to their schools, and despite the fact that the tests were formally considered mandatory.
Kathleen Dalessio of Toms River, a volunteer with Save Our Schools New Jersey, said not allowing parents to opt out of PARCC basically eradicates all parental rights.
“My reaction is outrage because we have rights, the federal law states that we have the right so why in New Jersey would we not have that right," she said.
The tests — given to students in grades 3 through 11 — were criticized by students, parents and some educators at open forums where they said too much focus was being placed on passing the test at the expense of other educational priorities.
“My kids are losing a huge amount of instructional time in the classroom teaching to this test,” Donna Andreen of Wall Township said at a forum in Wall Township a year ago. “I don’t really feel that they’re learning anything meaningful. My kids are tested on something or other every single week. It’s way too much, and a lot of this stuff is top-secret, teachers don’t see it, parents can’t see it. I have a lot of questions about the content, and I’m not getting answers."
Under the commission's recommendations, students set to graduate in 2020 — those currently in the eighth grade — would be required to take the test before being given the option of using scores from alternative tests to meet graduation requirements.
Susan Cauldwell, a resident of Spring Lake and a member of Save Our Schools New Jersey, says her group doesn’t think there is a value for standardized testing for the purposes of graduation.
“We believe that course of study and a completion of the credits is all that’s required,” she said.
She says a federal law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – acknowledges a parent’s right to refuse a test.
"We are going to be pursuing legislation in the state to codify that for New Jersey residents," she said. “Hundreds of parents testified about the issue of high stakes standardized testing and told the Study Commission in no uncertain terms they didn’t agree with that and all that testimony was ignored.”
Cauldwell said many parents don’t believe the PARC test “is a real good measure of what students have learned, the game is basically rigged, there are a certain number of students that are going to fail this test no matter how well they score on it.”
Students graduating in 2021 would be required to pass the Algebra 1 and 10th-grade English exams to graduate.
"Doing so will ensure all students are progressing well in their educational endeavors and all public schools are effective for all students," the commission wrote. "High-quality assessments such as PARCC will hold schools accountable for serving all of their students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The study commission believes it will be impossible to effectively close achievement gaps between and among students without accurate and actionable information."
Late last year, during New Jersey 101.5's November installment of "Ask The Governor," Gov. Chris Christie defended PARCC — saying it appears a far more accurate way of assessing student performance than tests used previously.
“It’s very difficult to tell, going from school to school, from teacher to teacher, whether, in fact, your son is meeting the minimal requirements that are necessary to be able to have a high school diploma in New Jersey,” Christie told a caller.
But he said some changes would have to be made to the tests.
David Matthau contributed to this story.