Common Core Standards, Online Testing Continue to Gain Ground in NJ

Bills proposed to delay implementation find no support from administration, leaders of Senate and Assembly

Democratic Sen. Jeff Van Drew
While a few states are getting cold feet about the new Common Core State Standards and the online testing they entail, most New Jersey politicians are concerned chiefly about costs and are waiting — none too patiently — for more details from the Christie administration.

And even a pair of bills that would delay implementation of the Common Core and PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness), its online testing component, are going nowhere fast.

That pessimistic assessment came courtesy of state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May), the primary sponsor of a bill that would delay the start of PARCC — now slated for 2014-2015 — until a task force evaluates the standards, testing, and the state’s implementation.

Commenting yesterday, Van Drew said “I spoke with the commissioner about it, and legislative leaders, and in a nutshell, it will be a heavy lift at this point.”

He conceded that he doesn’t see his legislation making much headway without support from the administration and the Democratic majorities of both the Senate and the Assembly.

“There seems to be some support for it, but the commissioner feels very strongly about moving forward,” Van Drew said. “That seems to be the sense of the administration, and also the majorities in the Senate and the Assembly.”

Common Core and PARCC are still being hotly debated in schools across New Jersey, as well as in other states, as the more rigorous standards and online tests are phased in.

Several states have raised a caution flag about attaching too much weight to early results of the testing.

That circumspection may be a result of what recently happened in New York state, which saw a huge drop in achievement levels under the new testing, sending chills through school districts and the politicians who represent them.

But in New Jersey, the political pushback so far has been more centered on potential costs. Democrats and Republicans alike have also asked for more information from the administration as to what implementation will require.

State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly education committee, said he planned to hold a hearing on the Common Core in January that would help clarify both the costs and benefits of the new standards and testing.

“Everyone is just so confused about it,” Diegnan said yesterday in an interview. “Otherwise, you are guessing at stuff. It’s better to find out what the real problems are.”

Other Democratic legislators said they, too, have heard mostly concerns about the costs of the new standards and testing, and hoped the administration would fill in the details. While PARCC testing will be fully online once implemented, it will be up to the districts to provide the needed technology.

“The main concern has to do with resources,” said state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex). “They don’t have the resources to upgrade technology, to teach how to use that technology.”

Republican legislators have started ask questions as well about Common Core and PARCC, but so far have said the administration has come through with the answers.

Leading a group of 12 Republicans who sent a letter to state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) yesterday said that the administration has shown a willingness to provide the needed information.

“There have been a number of questions raised about [Common Core], and the difference in how the Obama and Christie administrations have responded couldn’t be farther apart,” Pennacchio said. “Once again, the Christie Administration is showing Washington how government should be run.”

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