Murphy Begins to Wind Down PARCC Testing in NJ Schools

John Mooney | July 11, 2018 | Education
Governor announces cuts in controversial program. But, having once promised to scrap it, he concedes it will take a while to replace it

Credit: NJTV News screenshot
PARCC test
As Gov. Phil Murphy promised, PARCC testing is on the way out for New Jersey schools. But what will replace it and how long that will take remain open questions.

After once pledging to scrap PARCC testing on “Day One” of his administration, the governor yesterday announced the first steps toward that end, while admitting it may take a while to meet the whole pledge.

Murphy at a press conference in Atlantic City laid out a plan to scale back the current Grade 3-11 testing for the next school year, removing two of the high school years altogether from testing, and only administering to high schoolers a test for Algebra I and Grade 10 language arts.

Credit: NJTV News screenshot
Gov. Phil Murphy announces changes to the PARCC testing program.
Other grades would receive at least an hour less of testing each year — a 25 percent reduction, Murphy said. Each grade would receive no more than six hours of testing, he said, down from as much as eight hours now.

In addition, graduation requirements for incoming 9th and 10th graders would only include the Algebra and language-arts tests, and they would also allow for students to take alternative assessments to pass, a departure from the previous regulations.

Murphy: ‘High stakes, high stress’

And, surely more symbolic than anything, officials said the test will no longer be called PARCC — although the new name has yet to be determined.

“Yes, I believe as a father of four that student assessment is one important way to gauge growth,” Murphy said yesterday. “But we need a better way. . . High stakes, high stress system has been a detriment to our students and our educators.”

Yet much more is to come, and that’s where the questions — and the debates — arise.

First, much of the immediate proposal requires the approval of the State Board of Education, not usually a major roadblock, but in this case its acceptance is not a given either. Several of its members, including president Arcelio Aponte, have expressed misgivings about giving up PARCC altogether. The board is to see the first of the proposals today.

Beyond that, Murphy and his education commissioner, Lamont Repollet, indicated the process to develop and launch a new test will be long. Starting with an outreach for public input this fall, that could take at least until the 2020-21 school year.

Federal obligations complicate things

“Right now at a minimum, it’s three years,” Repollet said in an interview with NJ Spotlight after the announcement. “The school year 2020-21 will be the earliest we have a new assessment.”

Both he and Murphy also cited existing state and federal obligations that will complicate the process. For one, the state is committed to much of the existing testing under its plan to meet the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state also has its own decades-old statute requiring passage of an 11th grade test for high school graduation.

“While I would have liked personally to ditch PARCC on Day One, that simply wasn’t feasible,” Murphy said yesterday. “But we are now on a clear path.”

Yesterday’s announcement was largely expected, and it was greeted by a mix of applause and caution. The state’s principals associations and at least one of its teachers unions said the changes were a strong first step to addressing what they have characterized as an over-reliance on testing in the state’s public schools.

“The New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association fully supports the proposed changes to mandatory student assessments in New Jersey… as they are great step toward a fairer assessment system,” read the statement from the principals group.

Some are hesitant to ditch PARCC

Yet there was also some hesitation, if not resistance, including from some key quarters. State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the influential chair of the Senate’s education committee who has generally supported PARCC, said there was much more to discuss.

“Without having the opportunity to review the report issued by the Department of Education ahead of today’s announcement, the Legislature does not have a clear understanding of what the administration’s vision is for the future of assessments,” Ruiz said in a statement late yesterday.

“I look forward to having the Department of Education come before the Senate Education Committee to have a robust discussion about their objectives,” she said. “We should not move forward without ensuring that the state’s use of assessments are developed around the most important aspect of education — the success of our students.”

Others questioned changing the test at a time when only about half of the students pass. “With approximately only half of New Jersey students performing at proficient levels on PARCC [and national tests], now is not the time to be watering down our State’s assessment,” said Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN, a school reform group.

“Statistics indicate that nearly 60% of New Jersey students are unprepared for college. Assessments help us determine what steps we as a State need to take to help them be successful.”