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2-11-15 GSCS: Confusion About Testing Is Destabilizing - Clarity and Continuity Needed Now

NJ Spotlight - Chris Christie’s About-Face on Common Core Standards Turns Debate Upside-Down…Governor tells a GOP audience in Iowa that he has ‘grave doubts’ about academic standards and student testing he previously endorsed

John Mooney | February 11, 2015

A month before New Jersey is to start controversial new state testing aligned to the Common Core State Standards, Gov. Chris Christie muddied the waters this week when he said he now has “grave concerns” about the standards he previously endorsed and which his administration is busy promoting.

Speaking at a GOP event in Iowa, Christie said he has doubts about the state’s involvement in the face of what he was said was pressure to adopt the standards as a condition of federal funding.

"I have grave concerns about the way this has been done, especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things,” he said. “And that changes the entire nature of it, from what was initially supposed to be a voluntary type system and states could decide on their own to now having federal money tied to it in ways that really, really give me grave concerns.”

Christie said his concerns center on what he called the federal influence on local schools.

“It is something I've very concerned about, because in the end education needs to be a local issue,” he said.

One key aspect of Christie’s claims is questionable; adopting the Common Core standards is encouraged but not explicitly required under federal funding guidelines.

More significantly, the governor signed off on adopting the standards as far back as four years ago as part of New Jersey’s ill-fated bid for federal “Race to the Top” funding in 2010.

Little has changed since then other than Christie’s increased attention to a national – and more – conservative -- audience in his anticipated bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

Back home, the governor’s comments raise new questions about the administration’s commitment to the Common Core standards at a time when the state is about to begin the student PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing aligned to those standards, despite rising protests.

The state Assembly education committee is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow on one bill that would set procedures for families seeking to have their children opt out of the new exams and another bill that would delay the use of the test results in assessing teacher and school performance.

The governor’s press office yesterday wasn’t talking, while a request for comment from state Education Commissioner David Hespe was referred to the governor’s office.

The president of the State Board of Education, which only a few months ago restated its support for the new standards, said last night that the board stands by that stance but also plans to review the recommendations of a study commission tasked with evaluating the new testing.

“The State Board still stands by the Common Core,” said Mark Biedron, the board’s president. “The governor’s task force is looking at it and PARCC, and we will review their findings when they become available.”

So, what’s next? The study commission created by Christie last summer to address questions about new state testing continues to meet, its latest gathering taking place yesterday in Trenton. The third of its three regional public hearings has been scheduled for next Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Blackwood campus of Camden County College.

In the same comments in Iowa, Christie indicated the commission could have concrete recommendations thereafter.

“We're in the midst of re-examination of it in New Jersey,” he said. “I appointed a commission a few months ago to look at it in in light of these new developments from the Obama administration, and they're going to come back to me with a report in the next I think six or eight weeks then we're going to take some action.”

Nevertheless, the governor’s latest sentiments flew in the face of his own comments just two years ago, when he stood fast for the Common Core.

"We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're going to continue,” Christie said at a 2013 conference. “And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the President than not.

"I think part of the Republican opposition you see in some corners in Congress is a reaction,” he continued, “that knee-jerk reaction that is happening in Washington right now, that if the president likes something, the Republicans in Congress don't. If the Republicans in Congress like something, the president doesn't."

There was little indication from inside the state Department of Education that much has changed, as local districts yesterday were sent an update informing that the preparations continue for the launch of the testing in March. “In all, New Jersey students are registered for approximately 1.75 million assessments in either English Language Arts or Math, 98% of which are scheduled to be computer-based assessments,” read the memo.


CBS2 Exclusive: N.J. Education Chief Says Controversial Exam Is Good For Students

February 10, 2015 6:08 PM

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Some New Jersey parents have come out so strongly against a new computer-based math and language arts test that they have refused to allow their children to take the exam – but state education officials have rushed to its defense.

As CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported Tuesday, the state’s largest teachers’ union is also against the exam — called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – PARCC for short.

But New Jersey state Education Commissioner David Hespe said the students will benefit from being challenged by the exams.

“I’m saying these are going to be challenging tests, because nothing comes easy in life,” Hespe said.

He said the exams are necessary to measure student performance at an early age.

“We estimate over half of our students are currently graduating without the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college or in careers,” Hespe said.

Many students said online practice exams for grades three to 11 were excessively difficult.

Jesse Felder-Pfaff, 10, is a straight-A student in the Clifton School District. He said late last month that he will take a stand against the test when he is confronted with it.

“I know that you can refuse, and my mom and dad don’t want me taking it, so I’m not going to take it.” Jesse said.

Some students said not only did they fail to understand the test, but they were also having computer issues.

To that, Hespe responded: “Well, students at a young age to need to start understanding how computers work. We did a field test using computers last spring. Children took to it very well.”

The New Jersey Education Association is opposed to the PARCC test, saying it will also be used to evaluate English and math teachers and expressing concern that it could be used to punish them.

“Teachers should be evaluated, but it should be used to improve instruction, not be used as punitive gotchas,” said New Jersey Education Association Wendell Steinhauer.

But Hespe insisted the exams will not punish teachers at all – especially in those districts where student performance is low, and only count as 10 percent of an evaluation.

“I think most teachers want to demonstrate that they are at the head of their class,” Hespe said.

Even so, the teachers’ union said it plans on flooding the airwaves with commercials in hopes of stopping the PARCC exams.

The union said as many as 70 percent of school districts are giving notice to parents that their children may refuse the test. Hespe said for now, the tests will not be used as a requirement for high school graduation, but that could change after 2019.