Putting the Latest PARCC Results in Perspective

More New Jersey students are passing the online exams, but are enough of them attaining the top scores?

PARCC data
The latest results showing how New Jersey’s public school students fared on the state’s PARCC exams were released yesterday, showing a continued — albeit gradual — improvement in overall passing rates.

But like all things PARCC in this state, there are questions and debates about what it all means.

Even the apparent good news is mixed: More students are passing the test, but the overall numbers are still worrying. And there remain plenty of doubts as to whether PARCC is even a valid measure, especially when it comes to state graduation requirements.

Going forward, what happens next? The new year brings both a new governor a decision about whether to renew New Jersey’s current PARCC contract — or to move on to some other test.

With those questions and concerns in mind, here are three takeaways from the recent release.

Clearly trending the right way

Overall, there are more students taking and passing the PARCC tests, which are given in grades 3-11 in language arts and math.

In yesterday’s press release, the Christie administration said some 88,000 more students are meeting the competency levels of the testing for language arts and nearly 70,000 more for math.

The state showed growth in virtually every grade, with more students finishing in the top two levels of the five-tier scale.

“Our students, with the essential support of their educators and parents, continue to rise to the challenge of meeting New Jersey’s academic standards,” said state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington in announcing the results.

The results were also issued earlier than usual. In fact, that was one of the promises of PARCC — which is almost entirely administered online — and the statewide summary released in July is the earliest in memory. (District and school results will come in September.)

“Clearly the earlier release is in keeping with the DOE’s promise to provide more timely — and therefore more useful — data, and that is very good,” said Elisabeth Ginsburg, director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools.

Still dangerous gaps

For all that New Jersey has gained in the first three years of testing, New Jersey students are still struggling to meet the standards of the new exams. Even with the aforementioned gains, barely half of students are consistently reaching proficiency levels.

For instance, only in third grade did a majority of students reach the mastery levels in math. Across all grades, the highest passing levels in language arts were still short of 60 percent.

The stakes could be significant. Under the current rules, the state is going to require students pass PARCC tests in Algebra I and 10th grade language arts to graduate, and in the last tally, that’s still less than half of students.

Save our Schools NJ, a parent advocacy group, has led the fight against PARCC, and it said the latest results were hardly encouraging in reflecting the achievement of New Jersey students.

“New Jersey’s public education system ranks at or near the top in the U.S. in nationwide studies,” read a statement from the group yesterday. “Our students are not failing; PARCC is failing our students.”

Ginsburg of the Garden State Coalition added there is only so much to be read into the results, either way.

“PARCC or any assessment, in my mind, is only one medium-size piece in the bigger educational puzzle,” she said. “The color of this piece has gotten brighter each year, but it would take much more data to get an idea about the whole puzzle.

Does PARCC have a future in New Jersey?

New Jersey is about to enter the last year of a four-year contract with the PARCC consortium, and there is little certainty about what happens next.

The Christie administration has held fast to the state’s participation in the tests, even as other states have backed off. Just five states now are fully using PARCC.

In addition, both major candidates to be New Jersey’s next governor have raised caution flags. Democratic frontrunner Phil Murphy has gone so far as saying he would end PARCC testing, although he has not yet detailed what would replace it.

When asked at a teachers conference last fall, Murphy said. “I’ll give you the one-sentence answer: scrap PARCC day one, scrap PARCC as a high school graduation requirement, and I’d eliminate it as an element in teacher evaluation.”

But how that will work is still unknown; New Jersey law requires annual testing and a graduation test.