N.J. PARCC Scores: All Our Kids are Above Average (well, mostly)

The New Jersey Department of Education released the state’s PARCC scores yesterday and the results were good and, in fact, consistent with highly-regarded NAEP assessments: student proficiency in math and language arts in the Garden State are second only to Massachusetts. According to NJ Spotlight, “ New Jersey students surpassed the averages for the 10 PARCC states last spring in most grades and subjects, according to the state.”  And, in a sign of our technological prowess, a somewhat astonishing 99.5% of Garden State students took the tests online, compared to a national average of 80%. (Also see coverage from the Asbury Park Press.)

So the PARCC panic last Spring, epitomized in NJEA and Save Our Schools’ Luddite opt-out campaign, was a lot of sound of fury signifying, well not very much. Except for this: test refusals were much higher in high schools – about 14% -- compared to the 3%-4% opt-out rates in grades K-8. And, since most of those opt-outs were in wealthy “extremely white” suburbs like Princeton (home base of Save Our Schools), Ridgewood, Livingston, Millburn and the like, high school scores were comparatively lower, about average when compared to the rest of the country.

Another reason that high school scores are lower may simply be the result of the 2010 implementation of the Common Core: younger students grew up with higher educational expectations, unlike older students.

A group of Teachers of the Year across the country, including N.J.’s Katherine Bassett, participated in a study called “The Right Trajectory: State Teachers of the Year Compare Former and New State Assessments.” Ms. Bassett reports that “the NJASK actually rated pretty highly in the study itself, but PARCC had exceeded it in testing for analytic, critical thinking, and research skills.

“You went from a good test to a better test,” she said.

Note: Julia Sass Rubin, founder of SOS-NJ, complains in the NJ Spotlight comment section that the PARCC is redundant because kids already take NAEP. Why do they need to take both? Good question. The answer is that NAEP tests are given to only a representative sample, rather than all students. According to NAEP, “in the national-only sample, there are approximately 10,000 to 20,000 students.” In a state sample, there are about 3,000 students. If we only used  NAEP, parents, school districts, and the state would have no way to measure proficiency district-to-district or school-to-school. NAEP and PARCC are apples and oranges.

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