Explainer: Impact of PARCC Tests on Teachers, Schools at Center of Debate

John Mooney | July 1, 2014 | Education, Explainer
Controversial exams tied to Common Core Standards scheduled to debut in NJ during next school year

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What it means: The PARCC tests represent a big change in the way New Jersey and other states assess their students, both in the platform and the content. The online platform is a major departure from the traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

And the content — which is aligned with the new Common Core State Standards and their more rigorous benchmarks for student learning — will surely be more rigorous than what students have encountered in the past.

The debate: In New Jersey and elsewhere, the fight involves a variety of interests, on both the left and the right of the political spectrum , but much of it revolves around the states’ use of the tests to make high-stakes decisions about schools and teachers.

In addition, many educators say schools and students don’t have access to the technology needed for the testing, and others – both inside and outside the schools — see the PARCC tests as reflective of the “testing culture” that they claim has taken over schools.

Still others don’t like the idea of any kind of national standards and testing, saying that education approaches and policies should left to local communities to decide. Since September, in fact, three states – Arizona, Florida and Tennessee — have dropped out as members in the partnership.

The consequences: It isn’t just about students. Some of the strongest resistance in New Jersey has been from the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union.

The NJEA’s leadership has called for a delay in the use of the tests as part of teacher evaluations, saying the methods have not been proven accurate or effective. A bill pending in the Legislature would delay use of PARCC until its impact can be evaluated by a new Education Reform Review Task Force.

Who will administer the test: The PARCC consortium has selected Pearson Publishing to administer and score the test. Pearson will provide the necessary materials to districts, then receive the completed tests and score them.

Who will be tested: Students from in third grade through 11th grade will take the PARCC tests in language arts and math.

How it will work: Students will be permitted to take the tests on a range of approved technology platforms, ranging from desktop computers to tablets.

Students will sit for the test in two sections during the year, once in the spring to complete the performance-based section of the test, including writing, and a second time at the end of the year for a test of content and knowledge.

How long are the tests? In all, students will sit for testing nine different times during the year — five times for language arts and four for math. The duration is more than eight hours, three hours more than the current testing.

The cost: The price tag depends on how one does the math.

The cost of the tests themselves will be roughly the same per student as the current testing, or about $21 million statewide.

But big cost increase will be in fast-tracking the required technology, with some districts saying they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions — to have the necessary computers and bandwidth in place next year.

Out with the old: The advent of PARCC means the end of New Jersey’s battery of tests for grades 3-8, known as NJASK, and the test for Grade 11, the HSPA.