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Public Gets Chance to Air Views on Controversial New Testing for NJ Students

Hearings set next week around the state on PARCC exams tied to much-debated Common Core standards

public hearing

Six months after Gov. Chris Christie announced that his administration would evaluate state testing in schools, a study commission will hold a quick round of public hearings on the hot-button topic next week in three locations across the state.

The administration yesterday announced the schedule for the hearings, one each in the northern, central and southern parts of the state, which will be held over three consecutive days next week.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 10 a.m., in Civic Hall 105, Connector Building, Camden County College, 200 College Drive, Blackwood.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 4 p.m., in the Franklin Williams Middle School (MS #7) Auditorium, 222 Laidlaw Ave., Jersey City

  • Thursday, Jan. 29, at 6 p.m., in the Jackson Liberty High School Auditorium, 125 N. Hope Chapel Road, Jackson.

Members of the public must register to testify, and can also submit testimony online.

The quick pace of the hearings comes as the commission, led by state Education Commissioner David Hespe, has gotten off to a slow start since it was created last summer as part of a contentious political compromise over the launch of new testing.

The new online testing known as PARCC is slated to start in March. There have been protests over the use of the new testing to measure student and teacher performance, as well as over the time that will be consumed by administration of the tests.

In July, faced with the likely passage of a legislative bill that could have delayed the PARCC testing outright, Christie issued an executive order to create the study commission to look at the extent and influence of testing in the state in general -- past, present and future.

But the nine-member commission wasn’t appointed until November, and it has yet to release an interim report that was due in December.

Minutes of the group’s five meetings indicated the report was near completion as of late December, but still faced revisions. A state Department of Education spokesman referred media requests for the report to Christie’s office, which has so far been mum.

One certainty gleaned from the minutes was that the commission would not be recommending any delay in PARCC’s launch, as much for logistical as philosophical reasons.

New Jersey is one of a dwindling number of states taking part in the PARCC testing this spring, with Mississippi the latest to step back.

But the study commission appears intent on proceeding, at least for the time being, citing the lengthy process that would be involved in finding an alternative.

“Study Commission members … agreed the Interim Report needs to acknowledge the March PARCC administration in New Jersey cannot be stopped because it takes two years or more to contract for the development of a State assessment,” according to minutes from one meeting.

Christie last week did not rule out some future changes, however. In his regular appearance on radio station New Jersey 101.5, he previewed the upcoming hearings as a chance to explore the controversial topic of new testing, as well as the Common Core State Standards that are the backbone of PARCC.

Christie has so far embraced the new testing and standards, but the governor continued to hedge a little about Common Core, which has faced criticism nationally from both left-leaning and right-leaning groups. With Christie expected to run for the Republican nomination for president, his stance on the national standards is sure to be especially scrutinized.

“What I have concerns about is the Common Core, and that is why I established this commission to examine this and come back with recommendations,” Christie said on the radio station’s “Ask the Governor” show. “I am hopeful sometime in the next 30 to 60 days to come back with some observations and recommendations.”

When asked specifically whether the recommendations could affect PARCC, Christie did not rule out further executive action: “It could affect PARCC, in that the Common Core is integrated into PARCC, so it could change the nature of the testing a little bit.”

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