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Proposal Tying Graduation to PARCC Exams Met with Skepticism, Hesitancy

Many testifying before State Board of Education urge caution in adopting new standard, while others assail test itself

dorothy strickland
Dorothy Strickland, a member of the state Board of Education and professor emeritus at Rutgers University, listens to testimony.

What should New Jersey’s high school graduates be required to know and be able to do?

Yesterday, close to 50 people testified before the State Board of Education about a Christie administration proposal to require passing grades on parts of the online PARCC exams in order to earn a diploma.

Under the proposal, graduates would be required to pass the PARCC tests for Algebra I and 10th-grade language arts. The requirement would start with the Class of 2021 -- today’s seventh graders.

The proposal also calls for a yet-to-be-defined appeals process, but the state has intimated it could include alternative tests used by colleges and the military.

Hardly anyone testifying yesterday endorsed the plan, which will be up for a vote by the state board in May.

Following are excerpts of comments from five people who spoke yesterday:

Stan Karp, program director, Education Law Center: “The new standard for graduation has not been subject to adequate public or legislative review. The department has never explained the basis for the various (and shifting) cut scores on more than a dozen different exams, or what the common standard is between a score of 750 on the PARCC (language arts 10th grade) exam and a 31 on the … military placement test -- both of which qualify as diploma standards under the Department’s scheme. The Department is using tests, like the SATs and (military test), that are not aligned with state curriculum standards to measure student mastery of those same standards, a purpose for which they have not been designed or validated.”

Jennifer Keyes-Maloney, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association: “We support the adoption of the PARCC English Language Arts Grade 10 and Algebra 1 end of course assessments as the current statutory benchmark for determination of student proficiency. However, we equally appreciate Department efforts to examine these benchmarks in the future…We applaud the continued existence of a portfolio appeals process for students who may simply have difficulty in showing success on standardized assessments. Retaining this ‘safety valve’ is critical.”

Justin Alpert, parent, Livingston: “The PARCC was poorly designed. The methodology was noticeably flawed. The entire testing philosophy crumbles like a castle made of sand. People in other states similarly situated feel the exact same way. There was little public input. We have come here to tell you in person. We would like to be more involved in the decision-making. There must be a more efficient way of communicating the overwhelming will of the people. We are happy to help you to find a new mission statement for public education. Just ask.”

Eric Milou, professor of mathematics at Rowan University: The Department of Education and PARCC supporters point to the facts that PARCC is better than previous tests because it moves beyond multiple choice bubble tests. PARCC raises the bar. PARCC will offer a clear picture, diagnostic information and show students’ strengths and weaknesses. PARCC will be able to provide students college and career readiness guidance. The problem with each of these is that there is absolutely no evidence of such from the score reports or from the research.”

Nancy McCarthy Helbourg, math teacher, Passaic Valley High School: “We are just starting to understand the PARCC, and I find it unsettling that future decisions regarding this test are about to become regulation. Scores we received in the late fall are only one set of data. It is a baseline, a place to begin to understand and analyze...I am all for self-reflection and raising the bar, but the sky won't fall if we pause and further assess our own actions. We have great schools in the state. Students will continue to learn and grow. Decisions such as these impact our students’ futures, and if we don’t get it correct, they don’t get to redo their education.”

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