PARCC Field Test Goes Online as Exam Moves Closer to Full Deployment

John Mooney | March 20, 2014 | Education
Kudos and controversies aside, New Jersey is about to undergo a sea change in the way it evaluates students, schools, and teachers

computer testing kids
PARCC is finally here — or at least pretty close.

Starting on Monday, more than 1,200 schools across New Jersey will start field-testing the new online state exams that are part of the 17-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC).

The testing is a change in the way New Jersey assesses how its public schools are performing and students are learning, fully aligned with the national Common Core State Standard.

For the first time, the tests will be administered entirely online.

The field-testing that starts next week and runs through early April is a practice run for the real thing, which will be administered statewide in 2015. A handful of districts last year went through the test run, but this is the first time that schools in a majority of districts will be taking part.

The results in this round do not count and are simply part of the system shakeout, but just the advent of the tests in New Jersey was not without controversy. Concerns and protest have centered on how much the tests will ultimately count — not in just gauging schools and students but also teachers through the state’s new evaluation system.

The immediate concerns have been more local: Do school districts have enough computers? Is there enough broadband capacity to transmit the tests and students’ responses? Will the testing even work online?

The state Department of Education has been flooding districts with information about the testing over the past several months, including webinars and an array of guidelines for test coordinators and administrators.

The Washington School is one of four schools in Lodi that will be trying out the test Monday, with two of its fourth-grade classes taking the language arts section over three days next week.

The school tried out the technology last week, and with a couple of small adjustments, it worked fine, said principal Emil Carafa. The school will accommodate the testing in its computer lab, and also a portable bank of computers that can move from classroom to classroom.

And teachers have been walking students through the new process, he said, using the sample tests that have been released by PARCC.

Still, Carafa said teachers and administrators know they are embarking on a new era of testing, ultimately to replace the pencil-and-paper NJASK tests.

“There is always anticipation, but we are looking at it as a learning experience,” he said yesterday.

When asked whether there was a sense of anticipation, he said: “Among the faculty, there is. It makes the realization that PARCC is really coming.”

And Carafa said the changes are sure to be lasting. “It is a shift in education; it is a shift in instruction; it is a shift in assessment. In my years in education, I’ve seen shifts in a lot of ways, but this will be different.”