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Commissioner Hespe Talks PARCC Testing to Senate Education Committee

Senate panel is interested in getting answers about controversial online tests, but just in case a few more questions are needed ...

Education Commissioner David Hespe

Given the debate swirling around the new PARCC assessments -- not to mention the muted roar over the testing itself -- state Education Commissioner David Hespe should have plenty to say when he goes before the State Senate education committee this morning to answer questions from legislators.

The discussion is sure to get another jolt from the two pending bills that could significantly affect the testing going forward: one to put a moratorium on using the new tests for evaluating students, teachers, and schools and another setting a statewide policy for families who want their kids to sit out the tests.

But with the state Senate so far hesitant to post the bills -- one that passed easily in the Assembly, the other also expected to pass -- Hespe’s appearance may be as much about giving the Christie administration some political cover.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the committee’s influential chair, said yesterday that she hopes the discussion will help clarify and explain some of the disputes that have stirred the state over the testing, listing a number of questions she wants answered.

Not that Ruiz asked, but here are a few suggested questions for the commissioner, as well:

  • How do you reconcile your own full commitment to the new testing at the same time that Gov. Chris Christie has expressed “grave concerns” about the Common Core State Standards that serve as the tests’ benchmarks?

  • Would you vote up or down on the pending bills, and why?

  • How many families have so far opted out of the tests, even approximately or anecdotally?

  • Can you clarify what happens to schools or districts that due to test refusals fall below the federal requirement that at least 95 percent of students participate in the tests? What specific steps will be taken against them, if any?

  • Given that some schools and districts have reported large percentages of students refusing to sit for the test, how will the state ensure the validity of the results as evaluation measures in those districts?

  • Is there a concern for the effect of testing on school schedules, given the month-long testing window has been said to force some schools to suspend certain classes and/or the use of the technology for anything but testing?

  • Have there been any reports from the field about the impact of the testing on special-needs students and those with limited English skills, especially since most of the tests are English-only?

  • How many requests for assistance have been made from New Jersey to the PARCC’s call-in help centers, and what have been the predominant issues and resulting fixes?

  • Will student data be kept private and not be provided to other agencies, organizations, or businesses in any form? If a breach occurs, what protections do the state, schools, and families have?

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