Consortium Opts to Shorten PARCC Exams, Merge Two Testing Periods into One

John Mooney | May 22, 2015 | Education
In response to complaints, multi-state group decides to shave 90 minutes off math and language arts sections and alter exam schedule

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New Jersey’s new PARCC testing continues to be a moving target, as the nine-state consortium behind the controversial test yesterday announced some changes in the exams – while critics contended that the changes don’t go far enough.

Such is the never-ending debate over the tests, which appears unlikely to end anytime soon.

The multistate consortium announced that it would scale back the testing slightly in the 2015-16 school year, reducing the overall testing time by 90 minutes and changing to a single testing period. This year, the tests were given during two different stretches of time during the spring.

Members of the consortium, including New Jersey officials, said the changes are in response to concerns raised by parents and educators.

“This decision reflects our commitment to continue to be responsive to parents and educators, while ensuring that PARCC delivers on its intended purpose of providing schools with information designed to improve student learning and give each parent meaningful feedback on how their child is progressing,” said state Education Commissioner David Hespe in a statement.

In most official circles, the announcement was welcomed yesterday, with both educators and advocates saying it was an important step.

For the state’s school principals and administrators, it was an especially welcome relief from the current two separate month-long test-administration period that wreaked havoc with school scheduling for the better part of this spring.

“Having the administration all at once, changing that was very important,” said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. “That will make a big difference.”

School district administrators also praised the move.

“From the field we have, from the start, asked for one testing window and a reduction in the amount of time we were required to devote to testing this year,” said Charles Sampson, superintendent of Freehold Regional School District, and president of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, the suburban schools group.

“The changes today do at least signify that our voices are being heard,” he said.

And advocates who have defended the test under a battery of attacks also spoke up.

“This is the way the process should work,” said Janellen Duffy of JerseyCAN, an advocacy group in support of the testing.

“PARCC has now seen how things have worked in the field and made changes based on feedback from teachers and school leaders,” she said. “At the end of the day, we need high standards, accurate assessments, and we need to challenge our students and get them ready for college and their careers. These new changes will help us reach that goal.”

But it hardly quelled the debate overall, including from the most vocal critics of the both the PARCC testing and its planned use in the evaluation of schools and teachers.

And whether it slows the opt-out movement among families remains an open question, with some estimates as high as 50,000 students refusing to take the tests so far.

The New Jersey Education Association has been the most prominent critics, launching a multi-million-dollar media campaign against the testing. Yesterday, a spokesman said the changes were a good start.

“It is a move in the right direction, but it still doesn’t address the biggest problems,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the statewide teachers union.

“The testing is now somewhat shorter than the state bar exam, but it still disrupts a good part of the year to test preparation and administration,” he said.

And Baker, among others, said the decision to shorten the test was a “tacit admission” that the exams aren’t ready for use in evaluating teachers and schools.

“This reinforces that we need to hold off before using it for high-stakes purposes,” he said.

Save Our Schools NJ, the parents group that has led the protests among families, said the state still needed to address ongoing concerns and the changes only belabor the use of the tests in judging schools and teachers.

[related]“This will add one more year to the time required to validate it, as both the test contents and the testing process are changing,” the group said in a statement. “No district should use the PARCC results in consequential ways until it is validated, just as we would not want a medical test to be used without first proving it is accurate and unbiased.”

Specifically, the PARCC consortium announced the following changes.

  • The testing will be reduced from two administrations in March and May to a single administration sometime in the spring. The guidelines said testing will take place between March and May, but officials said firm dates have yet to be determined.
  • The overall testing itself will be reduced by roughly 90 minutes from the current 11 hours in the high schools and 10 hours in the elementary schools. The time will be reduced by eliminating testing sections in both math and language arts.