Coalition Hopes to Dial Down the Volume of the Debate Over PARCC Exams

John Mooney | January 28, 2015 | Education
We Raise NJ brings together educators, administrators, and families who think it’s time to move ahead with testing

soundwave loud volume
Protests from teachers and parents have grabbed a lot of the attention in the debate over the new PARCC tests, but a new coalition called We Raise NJ is hoping to ratchet down the volume of the argument.

Headed by New Jersey PTA, the coalition’s leaders said they are trying to balance the concerns of outspoken parents with the sense that others believe that the state needs to move ahead.

Debbie Tyrrell, the outgoing NJPTA president, said she has her own questions about the tests, but she wants to turn down the volume on what has become an extremely loud debate that is only likely to escalate in the weeks leading up to the exams, set to start in March.

Leading the chorus critical of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing have been Save Our Schools NJ, a grassroots group of mostly parents, and the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

“We’re cautiously optimistic with the test, but we’re watching it like everyone else,” said Tyrrell, who lives in Neptune Township.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know all the answers until after we give the test,” she said. “I think a lot of people are preemptively judging something without seeing the results.”

Her successor, incoming NJPTA president Rose Acerra, added: “There is a small group of parents making noise, but I think there are more who are looking up to us to give them information.”

The two leaders were hesitant to speak against what appears to be a growing movement of families who are saying they will pull their children from the testing. Tyrrell said such refusals have happened with past tests, too, and that it is every parent’s right.

“Every parent has to do what they think is right for their own child,” she said.

But they also said they think the protesting parents are in the minority with their views. “I think there are more in favor, and just afraid to speak out,” Tyrrell said.

The NJPTA is not the only group in the coalition that is hoping to spread a more supportive message, starting with public hearings organized by the Christie administration this week on the issue of student assessment as a whole.

The hearings are part of the work of a study commission that Gov. Chris Christie created to address the rising protests over the testing.

Among the coalition members, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association has often sided with the NJEA on controversial issues, including the extent of the state’s testing and its use in evaluating educators. But its director said yesterday it was time to let New Jersey try the new exams.

“It is troublesome that the debate has gotten so loud,” said Patricia Wright, the association’s executive director. “Everyone in the schools is struggling to make this work, and I think there is a lot of misinformation out there about the tests.”

She said the association is taking a position of “monitor and adjust,” in which it is closely watching the tests’ upcoming administration — and results — and adjusting accordingly.

“We know this is very tricky,” she said. “I am hoping we can at least get through the first year and then have a chance to reassess, all of it.”

“But first, what is the data we will get back from it?” Wright said, “that will tell us a lot.”

Other members of the coalition are the New Jersey School Boards Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Council of County Colleges, and Jersey CAN, an advocacy group.