What’s Going to Replace PARCC? It’s Complicated

State Board of Education debates value of standardized testing, draws no conclusions. Parents, educators weigh in

State Board of Education members Kathy Goldenberg, left, and Mary Beth Berry listen to testimony on new testing changes.
The debate over what’s next after PARCC for New Jersey schools is not over.

A month after the Murphy administration proposed to scale back — and rename —the state’s standardized testing next school year, New Jersey’s State Board of Education yesterday spent close to three hours discussing the value of state testing and how much is enough.

Little was resolved at the end of the Socratic debate, with a split board vowing to take up the discussion anew in September. Senate leaders are promising to weigh in as well, so look for State House hearings too.

An indication of the complexity of the discussion came in testimony afterward from a host of witnesses both for and against Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposal to revamp the testing program, including parents and educators on the front line.

Here are some excerpts:

Karen Bingert, principal, Hillsborough High School

“I … bring my perspective as a long-time principal of a large suburban high school which has enabled me to see first-hand PARCC’s benefits, challenges, and unintended consequences at the high school level…. I believe that the proposed amendments to the Standards and Assessment Code before you are a good start to needed changes to enable the development of a fair, valid, student-centered, and relevant state assessment.

“If the role of assessment is to provide valuable feedback about learning, PARCC in its former iteration did not do that. There was too much assessment and too little timely information to be gained from it. It is important to note that we used PARCC results for very little. We simply couldn’t.”

Donna Custard, NJ Chamber of Commerce Foundation

“To our knowledge, no research has been conducted nor objective measure been implemented to determine that the elimination of four end-of-course assessments would increase student achievement or better prepare them for life after graduation. The business community needs reliable measures of accountability and assurances that students are graduating from high school with the requisite skills for in-demand employment opportunities available in our state.”

Stan Karp, Education Law Center

“The proposed regulatory changes now before the State Board are, at best, a short-term measure to diffuse the immediate graduation crisis that was artificially created by the Christie administration’s ‘PARCC for graduation’ rules. But more must be done to make the assessment regulations and state law consistent with each other, to encourage the Legislature to reconsider the statutory requirement for a high school graduation test, and to realize Governor Murphy’s promise to replace high stakes graduation testing with more reliable, student-centered assessment practices.”

(The ELC has led a legal challenge of the existing graduation requirements as discriminatory; the case is still pending, with oral arguments yet to be scheduled.)

Cathy Lindenbaum, president-elect, New Jersey PTA

“The theme of my testimony today is equity. I believe we all share the same goals for our public education system in New Jersey — that each one of our students has equal access to a quality education that will prepare a child for success after high school…

“We know that assessments are far from the only or even the most important measure of student progress, but they are one critical piece of the puzzle. And often, our state assessment data has been critical in revealing achievement gaps between our more and less advantaged populations of students.

“I am concerned that if [the proposal] is adopted, it will create a back door through which some students will graduate from a New Jersey high school without demonstrating achievement of our rigorous state standards.”

Sean Spiller, vice president, New Jersey Education Association

“PARCC tests create unneeded stress for students, they take time away from teaching, they constrain the curriculum, and they fail to provide teachers or parents with data that is timely and actionable. When our young learners view PARCC as a hindrance to success — as one fourth grade student noted, ‘The PARCC may make it so that I don’t become as successful as others or go to a good college’ — then we need a new normal.”