New Jersey PARCC Update

The Garden State’s anti-testing crowd continues to intensify its opposition to the PARCC assessments and the media is responding  this week with a plethora of articles that depict this angst.

A little context for those just tuning in: In 1975 the N.J. State Legislature passed the Public School Education Act in order "to provide to all children of New Jersey, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location, the educational opportunity which will prepare them to function politically, economically and socially in a democratic society." A year later the Legislature amended the law to include uniform standards of “minimum achievement in basic communication and computational skills,” as well as standardized testing.

So, the Common Core State Standards are simply an update to those “uniform standards” and the PARCC is an update to the state’s ASK and HSPA tests, given annually to students in 3d-8th grade and in 11th grade.

This forty-year tradition was non-controversial. Students took standardized tests, teachers spent time preparing them, and schools worried about scores. So, what’s changed?
Initially, NJEA leaders supported the law. Indeed, the final bill mostly duplicates NJEA’s model tenure reform proposal. But now union leaders, aided by other lobbyists and national union leaders, are fighting back against these accountability measures.  They've even got a sponsor for a new bill (see my coverage here) that would force all school districts to help parents "opt-out" of almost  all standardized tests.

Now, the news:

From CBS:
The New Jersey Education Association is opposed to the PARCC test, saying it will also be used to evaluate English and math teachers and expressing concern that it could be used to punish them. 
“Teachers should be evaluated, but it should be used to improve instruction, not be used as punitive gotchas,” said New Jersey Education Association Wendell Steinhauer… 
Even so, the teachers’ union said it plans on flooding the airwaves with commercials in hopes of stopping the PARCC exams. 
The union said as many as 70 percent of school districts are giving notice to parents that their children may refuse the test. Hespe said for now, the tests will not be used as a requirement for high school graduation, but that could change after 2019.
From the Daily Record:
“Adults who have taken the practice test online are pretty shocked by the way the questions are designed and worded,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state. “They find them to be confusing, misleading.” 
Bari Erlichson, an assistant education commissioner, said the PARCC test will be useful to show teachers, schools and parents exactly where their students are performing well and where they need more work. 
“We’re really excited about the way PARCC improves upon the assessment programs we’ve had in the past,” Erlichson said. 
And for those considering boycotting? “They ought to give it a chance,” she said.
From the Star-Ledger, reporting from Jersey City:
Lisa Rodrick, an educator for 21 years who teaches reading to grades 3, 4 and 5, wears a button to work every day. So do the other 80 teachers at Alexander D. Sullivan School Number 30 Elementary School, she said. "Children should be chasing bubbles, not filling them in," Rodrick's button reads. 
From a  Jersey City teacher,  described as an “outspoken opponent of PARCC”:  “her fear is that PARCC is 'developmentally inappropriate,' and 'beyond' challenging in a district where about 70 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.” Also,  “teachers are starting to talk about opting out their own children from testing.” 
From Jersey City’s Chief of Staff Maryann Dickar: "We believe our students can meet these higher standards," she said. "We know we are in a transition to the new, more rigorous standards, but we know our students can meet that higher bar and we will support them all along the way."
From NJ Spotlight, which reports that  Governor Christie, desperately trying to regain his momentum in the GOP nomination race, told Iowans that,
 "he has doubts about the state’s involvement in the face of what he was said was pressure to adopt the standards as a condition of federal funding.
"I have grave concerns about the way this has been done, especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things,” he said. “And that changes the entire nature of it, from what was initially supposed to be a voluntary type system and states could decide on their own to now having federal money tied to it in ways that really, really give me grave concerns.”
Back home, the governor’s comments raise new questions about the administration’s commitment to the Common Core standards at a time when the state is about to begin the student PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readines s for College and Careers) testing aligned to those standards, despite rising protests. 
Nevertheless, the governor’s latest sentiments flew in the face of his own comments just two years ago, when he stood fast for the Common Core. 
"We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're going to continue,” Christie said at a 2013 conference. “And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the President than not.
From the Asbury Park Press regarding a new Monmouth University Poll:
While New Jersey residents want accountability for all the money that goes into schools, they don't believe standardized testing is an accurate gauge of teachers or student productivity. “New Jerseyans like their public schools, but they still want more accountability. They are not quite convinced, though, that standardized tests provide an accurate picture of educational outcomes,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, N.J.

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