In keeping with one of his campaign promises, NJ Governor Phil Murphy reduced the weight of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test scores on teacher evaluations from 30% (as mandated by his predecessor, Chris Christie) to 5%. A statement from the NJEA supports the need for the change. “State law continues to require that standardized test scores play some role in teacher evaluation despite the lack of any evidence that they serve a valid purpose” (NJEA.org).
For many years, researchers have warned educators against using standardized test scores for teacher evaluation. Educators have maintained that PARCC is an intrusive, harmful test that disrupts learning and does not adequately measure student learning or teacher effectiveness (NJEA.org). The decision, lauded by teachers, allows the focus of education to be on teaching and learning, and not test prep.
Instruction should inform assessment, not the other way around. By some estimates, the amount of time spent on just the testing was excessive: third graders had 9.75 hours of PARCC testing and high school students about 11 hours. The test administration was riddled with problems – schools didn’t have enough computers to administer tests, districts found the website erratic, much time was taken from classroom instruction to teach students how to take the test on the computer, and schools had to resort to taking a paper and pencil test.
State Senate President Steven Sweeney and State Senator Theresa Ruiz expressed their disappointment with Murphy’s decision. “This is a victory for special interests and a huge step backward towards a better public education in New Jersey. We look forward to the department providing data as to why these decisions are being made and how they will benefit our children” (TapIntoSOMA). Interesting statement as there is little data to support how testing actually benefits children. In the past few years, there has been a backlash from parents and students who opposed not only the test itself, but also the test prep.
Sweeney and Ruiz also said. “Every child deserves a teacher who advances their academic progress and prepares them for college and career readiness. We must provide the data and resources for all our teachers to excel and ensure every student has the opportunity to realize their fullest potential” (TapIntoSOMA).
Education Week publishes a yearly ranking of states public schools. In 2018 New Jersey ranked second in best public education in the country (Massachusetts is first). Something clearly is working, but it’s not the test.
- High school graduation rate: 90.1% (2nd highest)
- Public school spending: $16,337 per pupil (6th highest)
- 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 46.2% (math) 40.6% (reading)
- Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.6% (4th highest)
- Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 60.0% (4th highest)
Of the state’s total taxable resources, 4.8% goes towards education, second highest percentage in the country after Vermont.
Higher spending on public education does not always guarantee better outcomes, but in New Jersey, the higher funding appears to have translated to good outcomes. The state’s fourth and eighth-grade students are among the top 10 in NAEP math and reading proficiency, and 16.3% of eighth graders are advanced in math, the second highest percentage among states (USA Today).
Reducing the weight student assessment will have on teacher evaluation is welcomed news to teachers, however, the discussion of PARCC in NJ classrooms is not over.
This decision comes on the heels of another one of Murphy’s campaign pledges to revisit the PARCC Assessment for students. The New Jersey State Board of Education this week postponed the decision on Governor Murphy’s proposed regulations that would:
1) Reduce the number of PARCC tests high school students must take from six to two.
2) Shorten by 25% the length of time that all New Jersey public school students spend taking standardized tests.
3) Change the graduation requirements for the classes of 2021 and beyond, to enable students to use multiple other options to graduate (SAT, ACT, PSAT, ASVAB, Accuplacer, and the portfolio option) in addition to achieving a score of 4 or 5 on the PARCC Algebra 1 and 10th grade English Language Arts tests (saveourschoolsnj.org).
Some say the decision was tabled because they didn’t have the votes to approve the changes. Theresa Ruiz said PARCC testing was an important gauge of student and teacher performance (njspotlight.com). Few educators would agree with Ruiz.
NJEA President Marie Blistan said, “I am disappointed they didn’t vote on it, but I am still hopeful they will get (the changes) done. It’s the right thing to do, it’s based on facts and evidence” (njspotlight.com).
NJ Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said his plan was only to reduce the testing by four exams over the course of a student’s career. “I want to be clear to the board and to the public that we are not changing standards, we are not changing high-quality assessment. We are not even changing graduation requirements” (njspotlight.com).
One thing is for sure, this decision must be made soon, so districts have time to make whatever adjustments need to be made.
These are my reflections for today.
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