February 22, 2017

Future of PARCC Remains Uncertain After Assembly Ed. Committee Vote

The beleaguered PARCC test suffered another blow last week when the State Assembly Education Committee voted С 10 yes, one abstention С to support a resolution that would strike down regulations adopted by the State Board of Education in August 2016 that made PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) a graduation requirement.

The standardized assessment has been the target of much criticism from local educators, teachers’ unions, and community members, with many parents in Princeton choosing for their children, particularly at the high school level, to opt out of taking the tests.

Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane applauded the Education Committee decision. “I’m heartened that the legislature is looking at, and choosing to focus on, what’s in the best interests of students,” he said.

He went on to note that fewer and fewer states use the PARCC and that it has not been shown to increase students’ learning.

Legislators received hundreds of phone calls and more than 5500 emails urging them to overturn PARCC as a graduation requirement, according to the Save Our Schools NJ organization, which has been leading the campaign against PARCC. The resolution now goes to the full Assembly, then on to the State Senate. It does not require the governor’s signature.

If the resolution passes both Assembly and Senate, the PARCC graduation requirements will be dropped. The Christie Administration then must propose an alternative graduation test, or the legislature can pass, for the governor to sign, legislation either suspending or eliminating the requirement that students pass a standardized test for high school graduation.

Last fall Princeton Public Schools Superintendent, Board of Education President and local Teachers Union Presidents issued a joint statement in opposition to the DOE’s decision to count PARCC test results for 30 percent of teacher evaluations. State Assembly later voted to prohibit the use of student standardized test results as any part of teacher or principal ratings, but the proposal stalled in the State Senate.

Skeptical about the value of PARCC for improving curriculum and instructional practices, the Princeton Board has unanimously passed two resolutions in recent years “urging sensible, fair limitations on the state’s premature mandates to use PARCC scores to evaluate teachers or deny students their high school diplomas.” Both the school board and the teachers’ union have expressed concerns about instructional time spent on test preparation and about potential negative impact on curricular priorities.

According to Save Our Schools, multiple studies have shown that standardized test requirements for high school graduation increase high school drop out rates and do not improve educational attainment. Only 13 states still have such requirements. Save our Schools NJ has also contended that “making PARCC a graduation requirement violates New Jersey’s graduation statute and other laws” and that “PARCC scores required to graduate are inappropriately high.”

The future of the PARCC, for PPS and others, remains in doubt. “I’m encouraged by the fact that more than 5500 emails were recently sent to state legislators,” said Julia Sass Rubin, associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers and a co-founder of Save Our Schools NJ. “The PARCC is an unpopular test,” she added. “I would guess it would be gone in a year or a year and a half, depending on who becomes governor.”

Mr. Cochrane pointed out, “We may be seeing the demise of PARCC as a high-stakes test tied to graduation, but there may be other values for it. We like to have multiple measures of progress and achievement, and the PARCC could be one of those measures.” After only two years of testing, he noted it’s too early to determine the potential value of the PARCC.

The first administration of the PARCC test in Princeton schools took place in 2015, and just last August, the State BOE approved PARCC as the new graduation assessment, with students required to pass algebra I and tenth grade English tests beginning with the class of 2021, this year’s eighth graders.