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Selected Garden State Schools Put Tough New PARCC Exams to the Test

With first round of limited tryouts complete, online testing partnership announces New Jersey will be part of broader field tests.

PARCC Sample
A sample question from the PARCC Test

Nicholas Diaz knew all about the debate around the online testing coming to New Jersey in two years, and the questions as to whether both the schools and the students would be ready.

And he admits he was a little nervous when the Somerville school he led last year signed up to try out the language arts part of the exams being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC).

Diaz’s third- and fifth-graders at the Van Derveer School were among the guinea pigs.

“We were a little worried at first, this being the first time any of us had seen the test,” said Diaz, now a principal in Manville. “But they were pretty savvy -- they are a lot more tech savvy than we think they are.”

As for the rigor of the new test, Diaz said it is no doubt a different kind of exam, with students given familiar reading sections but then asked to do different things with them. For instance, one question asked for them to write an alternative ending.

“They were waiting for a bunch of multiple choice questions, and instead they saw text they that had to highlight on the computer and other places where they would type in the words,” he said.

The Somerville school was one of 44 chosen from 18 districts to conduct New Jersey’s first PARCC practice this winter and spring. New Jersey was one of 10 states doing small-scale tryouts.

One-half of the New Jersey group, including Somerville, had entire classes sit down to take a small section of the test, either math or language arts, to gauge technological needs and capabilities and the merits of the questions themselves. Students were also surveyed afterward on their impressions of the tests.

The other group tested individual questions with different students to see how they deal with the format and various tools, such as highlighters and calculators. The aim was to look over students’ shoulders and see what they understood and what held them up.

This first round of is only going to intensify in the coming year, with PARCC announcing last week that New Jersey will be one of 14 states to conduct broader field tests before the exams go statewide in 2014-2015. The PARCC consortium includes 20 states in all.

As many as a 10th of New Jersey students who will be tested under PARCC in grades 3-8 will be participating in one form or another in the coming field tests, according to state officials.

The districts will be chosen in the next few months, and once they have accepted or declined, the participants will be announced in October. They are being picked for demographic diversity, so PARCC can ensure as broad a cross-section as possible, officials said.

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