May 4, 2016

School Board Seeks State Review Of PARCC Graduation Requirements

As New Jersey public school students completed the 2016 PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) exams last week, the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education passed a resolution urging the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) to “withdraw its pending graduation requirement proposals.”

The PPS Board firmly opposed the state proposal to use 2015 PARCC test results as part of the graduation requirement for this year’s seniors, urging that requirements be suspended pending further consideration during this multi-year transition period. In its resolution the Board further noted that the new graduation requirements do not conform to existing state law and that school districts, parents and students were not given adequate and fair notice of the change.

The new state proposal would require graduating students to achieve a minimum passing score on PARCC, which was administered for the first time last year and resulted in a less than 50 percent passing rate statewide.

DOE press secretary David Saenz stated that during the next four transition years the DOE proposal allows several alternatives to a passing score on the PARCC for graduating seniors, including, among others, an acceptable score on the SAT, the ACT, the PSAT or the option of a portfolio appeal process.

The DOE proposal, which phases out all other options to the PARCC by 2021, except for the portfolio appeal, is currently in the midst of a sixty-day public comment period, after which the state Board of Education will edit and revise the proposal and push for adoption by August or September.

The PPS School Board, however, has urged the DOE to suspend proposed requirements and use the transition to PARCC as an opportunity to conduct broader public dialogues about graduation policies and equitable assessments for all students.

New Jersey would join only 13 states—down from 25 in 2012—that tie standardized high school exit tests to graduation requirements, and, according to the Board resolution, is one of only two states in the nation requiring that students achieve a certain score on the new PARCC assessments in order to graduate this year.

In supporting the School Board’s resolution, PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane cited a “need to shift the overall conversation in education from one focusing on standardization to one focusing on innovation.” He called for a new paradigm for education, moving away from the factory model of the 19th century with its view of students as products toward one that “promotes meaningful, engaging and personalized learning.”

In urging this paradigm shift, Mr. Cochrane emphasized, “We need to resist reliance on standardized tests as the primary means of assessment and instead foster broad public dialogues about equitable assessments,policies and instructional practices—ones that open multiple pathways for achieving not just a high school diploma but a life of joy, purpose and true success.”

Julia Sass Rubin, a co-founder of Save Our Schools NJ, associate professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers’ Bloustein School and the mother of an eighth grader at John Witherspoon, applauded the PPS Board resolution. “As a parent I absolutely support the resolution and am thrilled that the Princeton School Board took this leadership position,” she said, pointing out that nine other Boards of Education in the state have passed similar resolutions, “and more will surely follow.”

Save Our Schools NJ claims that “high school exit tests increase dropout and incarceration rates. They especially push low income students and students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. Research also shows exit testing does not improve college participation rates or job prospects for graduates. Exit tests hurt the students who don’t pass and fail to help the students who do.”

The district has not released attendance figures for this year’s test, but unconfirmed reports indicate that absenteeism for the PARCC at Princeton High School was high. Mr. Cochrane reported that this year’s PARCC testing “proceeded with remarkable smoothness,” despite a glitch on April 20 during which schools throughout the state experienced a 24-hour delay because of a computer problem originating at the Pearson testing company.

Last year nearly 800 of 1164 students in grades nine through eleven declined to take the PARCC, with only 30 of 370 juniors in attendance. Participation numbers were higher in the elementary and middle school grades.