Acting Education Commissioner Says PARCC Here for at Least Another Year

Repollet explains the expensive ins and outs of ending one testing program and ramping up another

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz has sponsored a measure to keep the now-invalidated PARCC graduation requirements in place for juniors and seniors.
PARCC isn’t quite dead yet, at least not in New Jersey.

After Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to end the controversial testing of the state’s students on “day one” of his administration, it looks as if PARCC will be around for a little while longer.

Acting Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said in testimony before the state Assembly and Senate budget committees that New Jersey will continue the controversial testing for at least another year beyond this spring.

He stressed that the state does plan to move to a new testing regimen, as repeatedly promised by Murphy in his campaign.

Hybrid approach to testing

Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet
And in testimony before the Assembly yesterday, he particularly praised Massachusetts’ hybrid system that combined PARCC and that state’s own self-generated testing. Massachusetts is among more than a dozen states that have left the PARCC consortium since it started, leaving just a half-dozen remaining.

But the commissioner didn’t put a precise timeline on the transition, and as he told districts earlier this month, it will be a deliberative process involving a multitude of stakeholders — students included — starting in May.

“We’re guided by federal and legislative statute, and we have to be deliberate as we transition away to a New Jersey assessment,” Repollet said yesterday before the Assembly budget committee hearing.

“There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to changing a test, such as graduation requirements or length of the assessments,” he said. “All of those things need to be looked at.”

For the time being, the state is staying the course. Repollet said a new test-management contract was entered into to finish out this year with PARCC, the end of the current four-year contract. The state, he said, was pursuing a contract for the next school year as well.

“As it currently stands, we have a contract for this year and for next year,” Repollet told the Senate panel last week. “That covers the short term, that’s through the 2019 school year for the testing.”

Uncertain future for testing

What happens after that is less certain, and legislators in both the Senate and Assembly made PARCC a dominant topic in their budget discussions with the new commissioner.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate’s education commission, pressed Repollet last week to be more definitive about the state’s plans for testing.

Ruiz said she has heard repeatedly from both educators and families that it is a foregone conclusion that PARCC testing is all but finished, when that is not exactly the case.

“My concern is about sending mixed messages,” Ruiz said after the hearing. “[Repollet] was very clear today that even if the process was to start today, we’re under contract for this year and the next academic school year.”

The senator said with all the procurement and other requirements that come with testing changes, it could be longer. “Starting the process, it could be at least three years,” Ruiz said.

The state Senator has also not hidden her affinity for PARCC testing, as controversial as it is. She said it has provided valuable feedback on student performance that previous tests had not.

No bargain

Either way, none of this comes cheap, as Repollet outlined that the state spends roughly $25 million a year on testing and that should continue, including a new testing-management contract for $5.3 million entered into this winter with New Meridian Inc.

But he stressed that the state will be moving to more short-term contracts, so as not to get committed to a specific program.

“We want to have yearly contracts,” he said. “From our standpoint, we don’t want to be locked into a contract where we say we don’t want to be a part of it anymore.

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, budget chair
But others said continually changing tests comes with high costs as well, both financially and instructionally.

“Are we taking into consideration what will be the cost of rolling out a new test?” asked state Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, the Assembly budget chair. “These things are quite expensive.”

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