Governor Punts on PARCC as Fate of Controversial School Test Still Unclear

John Mooney, Education writer | September 19, 2018 | Education
Murphy maintains his opposition to the ‘high-stakes’ exam but defers to state education commissioner on whether and when it will be replaced

Gov. Phil Murphy spoke about PARCC testing yesterday in Carteret.
Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday addressed for the first time the ongoing standoff over the future of PARCC testing. And, while reiterating his opposition to the exam, he offered little resistance to what increasingly looks like could be a protracted debate.

Speaking at a Carteret school where he promoted preschool expansion, Murphy indicated he was open to a full discussion on PARCC, but stressed that he remains steadfast against the testing as it stands.

“My views on PARCC haven’t changed,” Murphy said when asked about the topic by a reporter.

“I am not a high-stakes test guy,” the governor continued. “I want our kids to be assessed, let there be no doubt about it. And we have to assess teachers, let there be no doubt about it. But the white-knuckle, high-stakes test leaves me cold, and there is no evidence that I can find … that it is otherwise.”

But when pressed on how long it might take to reach a consensus on what to do with the standardized school testing system, he deferred to his state education commissioner Lamont Repollet, who offered little in the way of a timeline for what happens next.

Pro and anti

“I understand there is pro and anti PARCC, and we want to continue that conversation,” Repollet said. “I want to give the [State Board of Education] an opportunity to hear from experts and policymakers. We will get to a point where we will have a vote on that conversation. It is very important we address all the issues.”

Asked when it might come up for a vote of the State Board, Repollet said: “That is a conversation we are continuing to have with the State Board.”

Ongoing uncertainty over the state’s future path in testing — including for this school year — continues to mark what was once thought a done deal, after Murphy promised as a candidate and then governor that he would end the state’s use of the controversial test. But that has proven easier said than done.

The loudest dissent has come from Murphy’s own party, including most recently at a joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly education committees on Monday, where Democratic leaders called for further deliberation on what would replace PARCC once it is discarded.

And the dissenters are not backing off. “We need to get people in a room, roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) yesterday; she is chair of the Senate committee and increasingly outspoken in the debate.

Ruiz clarifies remarks

Ruiz in an interview yesterday sought to clarify remarks from Monday that the further deliberation about PARCC would take place behind closed doors, stressing she is not looking for the discussion to take place in secret. She said she is reaching out to key stakeholders as she did five years ago when working on the state’s teacher-reform law.

“I’m looking for the same way we did it with the [tenure law],” she said. ”That’s what we’ll do. We’ll get everyone to weigh in, and we’ll work it out.”

Those on the other side of the debate are not backing off either. The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, arguably has been the loudest voice against the PARCC testing, and its spokesman yesterday said the delay in deciding its fate is only hurting students.

“We think the state board should adopt the proposed changes,” said Steve Baker, the NJEA’s communications director. “There is no reason to delay. There has been extensive public process with extensive input already. There is no good reason there should be a delay in the decisions.”