This March, the junior class spent three consecutive mornings taking the High School Proficiency Assessment, a graduation requirement for every class to graduate PHS since its implementation in 2001. However, a recent change in Common Core Curriculum standards both statewide and nationwide has spurred the creation of a completely new standardized test, and next year’s freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will be the among the first students in New Jersey—and the very first at PHS—to test it out.
“The Common Core Curriculum has been adapted by most states … so an assessment was developed to measure … student progress,” said Principal Gary Snyder.
Because the content of the HSPA did not correspond with the Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers created an assessment that corresponds more closely to what students are learning in class. The primary reason that fourteen states and Washington D.C. have adopted the standardized test from the PARCC is to gauge student progress, but it could also be applied to the progress of teachers or schools, according to Snyder.
Beginning next year, the HSPA will no longer be a graduation requirement, and the class of 2015 is PHS’s last class required to pass the HSPA in order to graduate. However, “in October, there still will be HSPA testing [for the class of 2015]. It could be for someone who didn’t pass a section [as a junior], or it could be for someone who moves into the district from out-of-state,” said Snyder.
A key difference between the PARCC assessment and the HSPA is that the new test will be given to a larger percentage of students, as freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will all take the exams. Tests will also be given at two points in the school year.
Students will first take the PARCC assessment in March, during which they will test for five sessions—three for English and two for math. Because the sessions are approximately one hour each, they will most likely be grouped into two days, each day set aside for either math or English. The English portions of this performance-based assessment will focus on literary analysis, whereas the math sections will focus on real-world problems and mathematical reasoning.
“Later, in April, those three grades will have end-of-[year] exams from PARCC,” said Snyder. “Those will be in the subjects English I, English II, and English III, and the math sections Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry.”
The end-of-year exams taken will last four days. Freshmen will take English I, sophomores will take English II, and juniors will take English III. Students of various grade levels in Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry will take those respective exams.
Compared to HSPA, the PARCC assessment is intended to be more relevant to the content students are currently studying in their classes. Since the switch to the Common Core standards at the beginning of the 2013–2014 school year, students have been learning about topics that correlate with the information on the PARCC assessment.
“It will line up exactly with what [the students] are learning in class, so students will have a great understanding of what their strengths and their weaknesses are,” said Guidance Supervisor Angela Siso.
The PARCC assessment must also be taken on computers as opposed to the pencil-and-paper HSPA. “We will need several hundred computers, which means that we will need to use computers from around the building,” Snyder said. “It could mean all of the laptop carts that we have, in English, science, math, [and] social studies … [would be pulled] from classroom use and [would be used] for testing for a week.”
Timing and computer arrangements are crucial, as all testing is required to be completed during the 20-day time period allotted for each mid-year testing and end-of-year testing. “Logistically, we will have to stagger classes and/or grade levels in order to … get each and every student in front of a computer to complete PARCC testing,” said Siso.
The extra time required for the PARCC assessment is an area of conflict, as PARCC will interfere with both in-class instruction and the scheduling of midterms and finals. “I wish that the assessments could be done within a class period in a child’s class rather than having to create this big task of testing over a thousand students in the school building,” said Siso. “I just wish there was a happy medium between what the state’s mandates are and what could successfully happen in a school building.”
The demands of PARCC concerning equipment, money, and preparation have proven to be too much in certain cases. Because of the financial and educational pressure put onto districts by the assessment and standards, many states have withdrawn from the group of those that use the Common Core. Currently, New Jersey is one of 44 states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, fourteen of which are PARCC member states. Including these problems, the PARCC assessment could bring a burden onto PHS that is not wanted by students, teachers, or administrators.
A lack of class time for teachers to fully carry out their lesson plans could also prove to be a problem. “The less time we have in class, the less benefits there will be in student developments and student growth,” said English teacher Scott Cameron. “[Switching to the PARCC assessment is] going to be a nightmare for the administration, for counselors, for assistant principals, [and] for principals. It interrupts the school.”
Teachers could have more at stake with the PARCC assessment than they did with the HSPA. “[The PARCC assessment] could potentially be used in teacher evaluations,” said Snyder.
However, Cameron is hopeful that the teachers of PHS will not feel pressured to teach to the test. “I’ve seen different school districts that teach to the test, and classes are boring. It’s lower-level learning,” he said. “Filling in a bubble has nothing to do with the real world. It has nothing to do with curiosity and ambition and any of those things that make people want to learn.”
Some students are skeptical as to whether or not an increase in standardized testing—or any standardized testing at all—can lead to anything good. “Standardized tests undermine the value of the individual because it’s not right to assume that there [is] something that every single person should be capable of,” said Padma Gehlot ’15, who took the HSPA this year.
Similarly, PHS Language Arts Supervisor John Anagbo does not see testing as a productive way to assess, especially when there are alternatives.
“I’ve always believed that there is too much reliance on testing as a form of accountability … there are several ways to assess students’ learning,” he said. “What high-stakes testing does is regard some subjects as tested areas and others as non-tested areas. Is this saying that some subjects are more important than the others?”
Because the second semester is full of assessments such as SATs, SAT IIs, ACTs, PSATs, AP exams, and, starting next year, the state-given PARCC assessment, students will have less time to retain more knowledge to apply to more tests.
“Learning should be something where [students] come into school, they love doing it, and they want to go home and read,” Cameron said. “Standardized tests are not getting anybody excited about anything.”