At the April 26 Board of Education meeting, the PPS district discussed the New Jersey Department of Education’s recent proposals on making the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment a graduation requirement for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
Regarding the class of 2020, students would have to take the PARCC but are not required to pass the exam. The other tests students in the class of 2020 are allowed to take are known as “exit tests.” They serve as an alternate means of being able to graduate high school if students do not pass PARCC. Exit tests include the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and more.
For the class of 2021, the DOE has presented the resolution that all students would be required to take and pass the Grade 10 portion of the English Language Arts section of PARCC and the Algebra I portion, without any options of an exit test.
“I think the [proposals] will affect low income communities of color the most, where students aren’t coming from homes with lots of money and schools with very rich curriculums. They’ll increase the educational gaps between urban low-income communities and suburban communities. To deny them a diploma based on one test is just unfair,” said Susan Cauldwell, the Executive Director of Save Our Schools New Jersey, an organization that gathers parents and educators from across the state in support of equal access to high quality education. SOSNJ has generally taken a stance against PARCC and other “high stakes testing” as referred to on its website.In the April 26 meeting agenda, the Board reported that the required passing scores for the ELA and Algebra I portions of the exam students in the class of 2021 are approximately 37 percent and 36 percent. Additionally, the district has noted that less than half of current NJ seniors passed the PARCC last spring. “[The Board of Education] urges the DOE to immediately withdraw its pending graduation requirement proposals from consideration,” wrote the Board.
According to Andrea Spalla, President of the BOE, the resolution created at the meeting stated that it hopes to persuade the DOE to improve the current system by transitioning to a system that would not institute a minimum score a student would need to achieve on PARCC. “I am concerned that the proposal to mandate PARCC, and only PARCC, as a graduation requirement for the class of 2021 could eliminate all other alternative graduation assessments, as well as re-testing opportunities,” Spalla wrote in an email interview.
Citizens throughout NJ have also showed their resistance to the pending proposals. On May 4, the New Jersey Education Association, SOSNJ, and dozens of parents protested outside the NJDOE’s building. “Parents are making a statement. ‘Tests don’t teach’ is what they’re trying to get at. They don’t want their education dollars going to this test. They’re a forgotten group of stakeholders representing their children,” Cauldwell said.
Parents are concerned about other issues as well. “I think that some parents are justifiably concerned about the fairness of the NJDOE’s proposal, and about what they perceive as a lack of adequate notice and due process,” Spalla said.
Despite criticism on the PARCC exam being used as an instrument for the evaluation of students, there are others who feel that the PARCC is a step in a new direction for education toward more effective testing. “I think the PARCC itself is just the new form of the [High School Proficiency Assessment], and that [the district] is trying to find a way to replace it, because the old form [of the exam] was not as evaluative of students. The PARCC is meant to be more critically thinking based, more interactive. That appeals to different forms of learning and I think that’s the main reason why the DOE likes the PARCC,” said Nick Pibl ’16, a student liaison representative for the BOE.
“I mean the PARCC is the PARCC. It’s standardized testing. Back when we had the [New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge] it was the same thing— we had to take it as a graduation requirement. The PARCC can definitely can get better—there’s a lot of things wrong with it, but I feel like making it a graduation requirement isn’t anything new,” Anubhav Suri ’19 said.
Instead of PARCC, the district and SOSNJ are hoping to lessen the need for standardized testing and find other ways to receive a high school diploma. “ In shifting the educational paradigm to an individualized and innovative learning model, we need to resist reliance on standardized tests as the primary means of assessment and instead foster broad public dialogues about equitable assessments, policies, and instructional practices,” said Superintendent Stephen Cochrane in a statement at the Board meeting.
A new method of student review is being discussed, called a portfolio review process. This would potentially eliminate the PARCC and standardized testing as a whole. With this process, a board of educators looks at a student’s classwork, GPA, and several other factors. After an interview, the student’s ability to graduate is evaluated. This is proposed by the DOE as the only other way to receive a diploma if a child in the class of 2021 does not pass PARCC.
“[SOSNJ] prefers a portfolio review process because it probes deeper into the example of how a student is actually understanding their work. Public education is just so much more than ELA and Math,” Cauldwell said.
Amidst the debate surrounding from this topic, some remain hopeful on the non-use of PARCC. “I think there’s a very good chance PARCC will not become a graduation requirement. There are politicians on both sides of the issue that are trying to get their points out there,” Cauldwell said.
Nonetheless, the final decision on whether or not PARCC will become a graduation requirement is dependent upon the decision of the state. “Unless the New Jersey legislature amends the current law requiring a high school graduation test, public school students in our state will continue to have to pass a test in order to receive a diploma. Whether the test will be the PARCC will depend on many political and legal factors at the state level. Time will tell,” Spalla said.