Legislators re-evaluate standardized student testing

Lawmakers hear about possible next steps after court ruling that PARCC test is unconstitutional

Standardized testing has long been held as an effective way to measure student success, but the state’s use of the PARCC exam as a graduation requirement has been the issue of debate since it was first required in 2016. Just this year, the courts ruled it unconstitutional under state law. Now, legislators are trying to determine where to go from here.

“There is no federal requirement for exit testing. Students do have to take a test, but they do not have to pass that test as a graduation requirement,” said Christine Miles, associate director of professional development for the NJEA.

“When PARCC became the graduation test, the passing rates dropped dramatically, to the 30- and 40-percent range. And so, of the hundred thousand seniors each year who were graduating, you had tens of thousands of students who had to take multiple tests and find other ways besides the main state graduation test to satisfy the graduation requirement,” said Stan Karp, director of the Secondary Reform Project with the Education Law Center.

Testimony from educators and advocates was largely similar, with many making the case that graduation testing can actually harm students’ long-term success.

“It’s linked to higher incarceration rates, as we’ve heard earlier, because we have students who then do not see themselves as graduates. They don’t see it as possible for them. They drop out. It limits their postsecondary opportunities,” said Miles.

Some see merit in standardized tests

But supporters of the testing say it’s necessary as a standard by which to measure all the districts against each other.

“We have no other measure to tell us what the quality of what that ‘A’ is,” said Shelley Skinner, executive director for Better Education for Kids.

But others drew the comparison between districts as the real indicator of outcomes, saying it all comes down to money.

“The single largest predictor of success on a standardized test — it’s not GPA, it’s not anything other than parental income. When we do standardized tests, what we are measuring is how much money your parents have. And because of that, while they don’t measure achievement, they do a really good job of reinforcing existing educational inequity,” said Andre Green, executive director of FairTest.

“Look at the students who did not pass the PARCC and had to either go through one of the assessments, the alternatives or the portfolio process. In 2018, 88 percent of those students were black or Hispanic — for the students that were not able to initially pass the score,” said John Kummings, superintendent of the Wildwood School District. “60 percent were economically disadvantaged and 31 percent were English language learners.”

“The high school GPA — say what you want about grade inflation and all these other things — it is still the best predictor of first-year college success and four-year college persistence. And I’m not saying that; the SAT, the College Board, is saying that,” said Christopher Tienken, an associate professor at Seton Hall University.

One recommendation that many in the room seemed to agree on was the formation of a committee that would bring together a range of voices, including educators and parents, to study the issue further.