April 6, 2016

Improved Version Of the PARCC Test Ready for Next Week

Controversy locally and across the country continues to pursue the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) Test as Princeton Public Schools (PPS) prepare to administer the 2016 PARCC, starting next Monday. Testing over the next three weeks may result in a more stringent assessment of the PARCC itself than of the student test-takers and their schools. 

For parents who choose not to have their children take the PARCC, last Monday, April 4, was the deadline to submit a written statement to their children’s principal, but PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane stated on Tuesday that “we won’t have truly accurate numbers on test refusal until the end of the week.” He did say that refusal numbers “appear to be lower than last year.”

Nearly 800 of 1164 students in grades nine through eleven, including 340 of 370 juniors, declined to take the PARCC last year, its first year, though participation numbers were higher in the elementary and middle school grades.

Poor attendance, accompanied by criticism of the Test from Save Our Schools NJ, the NJEA teachers’ union and other groups, along with declining participation nationally, makes the long-term future of the PARCC uncertain. The New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) states that passing scores on PARCC tests will be a graduation requirement, but because the test is relatively new, current high school students may use other standardized assessments to meet the requirement, and there is also a “portfolio assessment” option.

An article about PARCC on the PPS website states that “the new state-mandated graduation requirements are currently being debated and may change over the next few years.”

Mr. Cochrane observed earlier this week, “Parents are making thoughtful, rational decisions about allowing their children to take the assessment as well as disallowing them to do so.”

The superintendent added, “The Princeton Public Schools have proven to be a safe space for healthy discussions on topics such as standardized tests. We continue to honor that openness and support our families in making the best decisions for their children. Most importantly, however, the focus in our classrooms continues to be on quality instruction for every student.”

Improvements in the PARCC this year, according to Mr. Cochrane, include reducing the school-wide testing window from three weeks to only one for each grade level—April 11-14 for Princeton High School; April 18-22 for John Witherspoon Middle School; April 11-15 for grade five; April 18-22 for grade four; April 25-29 for grade three, reduction of testing time by approximately 90 minutes and improved technology resources.

The fate of the PARCC test seems uncertain, as New Jersey’s DOE decides how best to assess the state’s schools and their students, and the Princeton Public Schools decide how to work with the state’s mandates to best serve their particular student population.