The discomfort over educational testing in New Jersey is increasing as parents ponder whether or not they should allow their children to take the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). What is adding urgency to the debate is that the first round of the PARCC is in March. The name of the test reflects its intended purpose: to ensure that a student is both prepared for and successful in college. The results of the test also play a role in a teacher’s evaluation. The more students who score well would, as expected, reflect positively on the teacher.
However, opposition to the test is growing because some parents complain that additional testing stresses children, it diverts time and money from other priorities and it almost mandates that teachers teach for the test if they wish to achieve a positive evaluation. This last point is a bit confusing though, since the PARCC assessments are aligned to the Common-Cure educational standards that New Jersey schools have adopted. Therefore, if the teachers are following the curriculum framed by those standards then this issue would be somewhat moot.
This opposition isn’t ephemeral at all. A poll of parents conducted by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) shows that 47 percent of parents and 42 percent of other voters had a negative impression of the test. “Our members have long understood the difference between useful assessments that help them better understand the strength and needs of their students, and intrusive high-states tests that disrupt and distort that education process,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, quoted in a recent news report.
One response to the test is that some parents will keep their children from attending it, which is problematic because each school system has a different (if any) response to this action. Another approach is to allow the child to attend the test but to not participate. Some have suggested that they will go to the test site, thereby obeying the rules for attendance, but not participate in the test. Some parents have said that their child might sit at a computer but not take part. Others suggest placing the students who do not take the test in another classroom that would allow them to study or complete other school requirements. The dilemma here is that, once again, there is no uniform response for children showing up on the testing date yet choosing not to participate. I have offered a remedy for this to ensure that our students are neither harmed nor penalized for not participating.
I recently introduced a proposal, A4193, which is designed to fill the void created by the administrations which have not developed a uniform policy with regard to parents having their children opt out of the PARCC assessment. The proposal requires school districts to provide an alternative educational activity if the students have been opted-out of the PARCC assessment. Let me be clear, I hope that all required New Jersey school children will sit for the test. I believe that high quality assessments can provide real actionable data that can provide valuable information on student progress and help teachers and schools evaluate student performance and heighten educational accountability. However, in the event that some parents decide to keep their children from taking the test, we have an obligation to afford them with a suitable educational activity in my opinion. That's what A4193 seeks to address. Until we settle the future of the PARCC assessment, my legislation will protect and not penalize children who, for the moment at least, take a bye during the upcoming exam date.
That said, I believe annual testing has real value in assisting students and teachers in our collective effort to raise our nation's educational standards. It can no longer be debated that our school children are no longer competing simply town-by-town in just New Jersey, but rather in a global marketplace amongst their international peers. It is imperative however that the assessment being offered is clear in its construction and efficacy towards addressing this challenge. And, it should also be understood that objective assessments, like PARCC, are but a component of the overall solution.
Another key facet to this debate is the overarching question, "Are we overtesting our children?" According to an October 2014 report by the Center for American Progress, “a recent Purple Strategies poll commissioned by the Center for American Progress found that 49 percent of parents think there is too much standardized testing in schools. But in an apparent contradiction, three out of four parents think that it is important to regularly assess whether their children are on track to meet state academic goals, according to a poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.”
As I previously stated, I support higher standards for our children and I support higher standards and accountability for our teachers, but I do not support subjecting our children to overtesting. Overtesting is a legitimate frustration and fear of parents. It takes away from teachers’ ability to develop our children into lifelong learners by compromising classroom instruction and frankly isn’t necessary. Multiple local district-driven assessments on top of the PARCC are not in the best interests of our children. There needs to be a single, once-a-year test or a limit to the number of testing hours that school children take. Standardized student assessments have been around education for a long time. We have to be clear in their use and application in order to maximize the learning experience for our children. That’s my take, what’s yours?