State Goes Public with Results of First-Year PARCC Exam Scores

John Mooney, Colleen O'Dea | February 3, 2016 | Education
As expected, the numbers show widespread falling off from earlier state tests; opt-out numbers are inconclusive

Source: NJSpotlight analysis of NJ Department of Education PARCC data. Graphic by Colleen O’Dea

Source: NJSpotlight analysis of NJ Department of Education PARCC data. Graphic by Colleen O’Dea

The results of the inaugural PARCC tests last year are finally out for the public to see, with breakdowns for individual schools and districts released by the state yesterday.

(Search online database from this link.)

But don’t expect to be fully satisfied, since the results raise nearly as many questions as answers, with all kinds of caveats and conditions as to what they will mean going forward.

The overall numbers hardly come as a surprise; the state previously released statewide averages that saw a big drop in proficiency levels under PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) compared with previous state tests.

2014-15 PARCC Scores for All Students
2014-15 PARCC Scores for All Students

Find PARCC scores, passing rates and non-testers. Search by one or more categories or leave blank to see the entire database.

That showed in individual districts, too, with even the highest-flying districts seeing only 70 percent of their students meeting PARCC expectations, while proficiency levels on previous tests were sometimes 20 points higher.

And there were even unexpected exceptions to that. Millburn, a perennial testing all-star, saw just 57 percent of its tested 11th-graders meet the benchmarks in that grade’s language-arts exam. In Montgomery, just 61 percent of third-graders were found to be meeting or exceeding “expectations” in language arts.

In tougher districts, the contrasts were starker still, with dozens of schools in the single digits in passing rates. Camden saw just 8 percent of its students meet the mark on the 11th-grade test. Paterson was a little better at 11 percent.

But that’s just the surface of what is a new and complex landscape.

Due to confidentially rules, dozens of schools will see no results released at all. The state said it’s obliged to suppress scores when it involves 10 or less students in a given category.

And in many districts, the question arises as to how many students even took the tests in this first year.

In one of the most closely watched numbers, the state did not give specific data on students and families who sat out the test in protest — a hot topic a year ago when an opt-out movement bubbled out of opposition to the new testing.

Instead, the state used a catch-all number for students “not tested,” one that includes those absent from school that day or taking alternative tests.

Nonetheless, more than 10 percent of all students did not take the PARCC last fall, according to the data, with some schools seeing as many as three-quarters of their students not sitting down to take PARCC exams for whatever reason.

Yesterday, state Education Commissioner David Hespe issued the following statement with the release of the scores:

“Now that we’re entering the second year of PARCC testing, educators and parents are seeing the benefits of PARCC. They see it’s the most effective assessment tool the state has ever had, and they see how it can help improve teaching and learning in ways that our old tests never could. And that’s precisely where the focus should be: Improving the education we provide to children.”

Needless to say, critics had a different take.

“The 135,000 students who did not take an English Language Arts PARCC tests last spring confirms that large numbers of New Jersey parents rejected high-stakes standardized testing,” said a statement from Save Our Schools NJ, the advocacy group that has played a lead role in the opt-out protests.

“In fact, New Jersey had the second-highest number of refusals in the country, second only to New York, which has a much larger total number of K-12 students,” it read.

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