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3-3-15 Education Issues in the News - PARCC Testing...State Board Meeting Tomorrow

Statement released by Department of Education 3-2-15, yesterday evening, after the first day of PARRC testing - Today, the first day of PARCC testing throughout New Jersey, students took more than 96,000 PARCC tests. Not all New Jersey districts began testing today, but ultimately 900,000 students in nearly 700 school districts and charter schools, representing some 2,500 schools will give the new computer-based assessments.

Overall, the opening day was uneventful in most districts. Some schools postponed today’s testing due to delayed opening because of the ice storm, technical problems have generally been light, and student participation appears to be strong in most schools, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.

Education Commissioner David C. Hespe issued the following statement regarding PARCC testing:

We believe that most parents understand the value that the new PARCC assessments will provide to them and to their community schools. For the first time in decades of statewide student assessments in New Jersey, we have an assessment that is designed to improve the classroom and give parents meaningful feedback about their child’s academic progress. The previous paper-and-pencil tests never could provide that level of feedback to parents, nor provide schools with information that could improve classroom instruction.  

For months there has been a great deal of discussion among adults about the new assessments. Now it’s time to step back and put the spotlight on our students, and let them show us what they can do.

For more information, go to the NJDOE’s PARCC FAQ.

The Record - New state tests met with complaints of difficulty, student refusal, confusion

MARCH 2, 2015, 10:38 PM    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, MARCH 2, 2015, 10:43 PM


New state tests were given across New Jersey on Monday amid controversy and a growing test refusal movement that overshadowed what state education officials said was intended to be a boon to learning and instruction in schools.

About 900,000 students in Grades 3 to 11 are required to take the computer-based tests known as PARCC this spring, although some opted out of the test with their parents’ backing. Students who took the test said it was far more difficult than the ones they used to take, but few technical problems were reported.

“Students took around 100,000 tests today so the volume was very high,” state Education Commissioner David Hespe said Monday. “Technology-wise, I think the day went well. One of our greatest challenges was to make sure technology we used with the new computer format is working well, and we thought it did today.”

The tests have stirred an uproar among some parents who say they are a poor measure of learning and that students are overwhelmed by too much testing. The growing number of refusals posed a problem for districts that had to accommodate non-testers while worrying about the fallout from too little test participation.

In Ridgefield, where two out of five high school students refused the tests, Superintendent Frank Romano said he worried about the impact on schools.

“I want what is best for the school and for the kids,” Romano said, “and I don’t know what the impact of that will be because we don’t have enough clarity.’’

Hespe said it was too soon to tell how many test refusals there were and whether the state would meet a federally mandated 95-percent participation rate.

“We just don’t know right know,” Hespe said. “I just hope most parents see how important the test is to their child.”

Some districts, including West Milford, postponed the start of testing Monday because of weather-related delays. For those who took the test, there were few, mostly minor technical problems.

One district, Union Township, had to postpone testing because of an Internet connectivity problem, Hespe said.

In Maywood, there was a 10-minute delay because of problems loading data to the server, but officials had planned for an extra half hour in case of hiccups, Superintendent Michael Jordan said. In Fort Lee, error codes appeared in exams, but that was resolved within minutes, said a school official. In Fair Lawn, a student said it took a long time for videos to load on the exams.

The new computer format was a change for students, like Mariam Aly, a freshman at Fort Lee High School, who said the new test was harder in part because answers had to be transferred from paper to the computer.

“The Internet was slow, sort of, because a lot of students were on it at the same time,” she said.

For many students, the main complaint was the level of difficulty of the new tests, which are supposed to be more rigorous and encourage critical thinking. Mirna Mohamed, also a Fort Lee freshman, said the Algebra 1 test asked questions on topics that had not been covered in class.

“We all put random answers,” said Mohamed, adding that some students finished the exam in 10 minutes. Students are allotted 90 minutes, she said.

Last year’s exam, NJ Ask, was much simpler, she and other students said.

“PARCC is terrible; it’s so confusing,” she said.

In Fair Lawn, which started testing a week early, high school freshman Ronan Tarnow-Fine said though he finished the test early at times, he still felt it was challenging. He also said the way some questions were worded were “off-putting” or “weird.”

“This one seemed a little harder,” Tarnow-Fine said.

Other students said the tests weren’t bad. As they were leaving Benjamin Franklin Middle School on Monday afternoon, several Ridgewood sixth-graders shrugged off the test, saying it was “not that difficult” or “pretty easy.”

“The essay at the end was challenging, but overall it was easy,” said one sixth-grade boy.

“I thought the test was fine ... it wasn’t that bad,” another sixth-grader said.

The PARCC tests — named for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the group of states that developed them — are required for students in Grades 3 to 11 in math and language arts.

Many parents chose to refuse tests for their children because they felt it was too hard, confusing or didn’t suit their age level, while others said it was a drain on teaching and school resources. But the number of refusals varies wildly among districts.

By Monday, 30 students in Park Ridge had refused the test out of 900 who were supposed to take it. There were 45 students opting out in Hackensack and fewer than 20 in Paterson — two of the largest districts in North Jersey.

In Fair Lawn, less than 1 percent of the district’s 4,800 students opted out of taking the exam, said Superintendent Bruce Watson. He said the district has not seen any major issues with the exam or backlash against taking it.

“I think the families in Fair Lawn are supporting the experience for their students,” Watson said.

But it was a far different experience at Northern Highlands Regional High School, which saw about 500 of its approximately 1,400 students refuse to take the test, interim Superintendent John Petrelli said. Those students, he said, received regular instruction through a plan the district had in place.

“With what’s going on state­wide it doesn’t surprise me that it happened this way,” Petrelli said. “The Department of Education needs to look at it closely.”

Petrelli’s comments echoed the complaints that many superintendents shared with The Record over what they say are mixed messages from the state that they believe encouraged test refusals.

In Ridgefield, Romano said messages from the state that the tests “won’t count” for students were to blame for the significant opt-out rate at the high school. The tests will not be used to judge students until 2019, when they become a graduation requirement for 11th-graders, but they will be used in evaluating teachers and schools.

“There was a clear message that you don’t have to take the tests and there is no individual impact, just an impact on the district,’’ Romano said.

“I understand the benefit of having more data, but I don’t think that’s a primary concern from an individual’s perspective,’’ he added.

A 15-year-old sophomore, who asked her name not be published, said she was among those who refused to take the test at Ridgefield Memorial High School and was among the students circulating information on doing the same if they wanted to. The student, who said she has a 3.7 GPA, said when she took the practice tests she didn’t score well, which reinforced her decision not to participate.

“It’s really hard, and we didn’t get enough practice for it, and it’s pointless,’’ she said.

Romano said 20 to 30 children have sent letters to opt out of the test in Grades 3 to 8, where testing starts next week.

In Clifton, Superintendent Richard Tardalo said the refusal movement had picked up momentum in recent days. As of Monday morning, more than 150 Clifton High students refused to take the test, with the backing of their parents, out of some 3,000 who attend the school.

Tardalo said the students will not be punished and that the push-back made sense, given the “mixed messages” they have received about the tests’ value. He noted the passage of a state Assembly bill that would delay any impact of the PARCC tests for the next three years.

“The government and state education department should be working hand in hand,” Tardalo said. “That doesn’t seem to be happening completely. It’s poor leadership at the state level.”

Hespe said the message has been “consistent” at the Department of Education that students have to be tested under state and federal law. He said the test will provide valuable, detailed data that can help students and raise the rigor in schools.

But “the atmospherics aren’t helpful,” he said, referring to a media campaign against the test by the teachers’ union.

Schools need at least a 95-percent participation rate, he said, so they can get reliable data and learn the needs of different student populations.

Schools that don’t make the mark, he said, will fall under scrutiny. The state, he said, will have to review what happened and work with districts on corrective action plans.

Staff Writers Monsy Alvarado, Mary Diduch, Chris Harris, Jeff Green, Kim Lueddeke, Allison Pries, Todd South, Linh Tat and Andrew Wyrich contributed to this report. Email: adely@northjersey.com

NJ Spotlight - DESPITE RAUCOUS RUN-UP, DAY ONE OF PARCC TESTING WAS MOSTLY UNEVENTFUL…Sharpen those pencils: NJ Spotlight continues its PARCC testing with several samples from the math test for third-graders


New Jersey’s statewide PARCC testing started yesterday, give or take a snow delay, and despite a few glitches -- and even more refusals to even take the exams -- the administration was declaring with some relief that the day was uneventful.

Overall, close to 100,000 tests were administered without major mishaps, according to the state Department of Education.


PARCC Mathematics Sample Tests

Fifth-Grade Language Arts

The biggest obstacle was a change in schedules in scores of districts due to delayed openings after the overnight ice and snowfall.

The department said technological problems were few and student participation was high, good news compared with the technological mishaps in Florida that saw testing suspended.

The department skipped over what is a growing opt-out movement in many districts. More than a quarter of the students in Livingston schools -- Gov. Chris Christie’s hometown -- told the district they would sit out.

But state Education Commissioner David Hespe said, for all the public debate and protests, the time had come for the students to take the tests.

“For months there has been a great deal of discussion among adults about the new assessments,” he said in a statement. “Now it’s time to step back and put the spotlight on our students, and let them show us what they can do.

In the meantime, NJ Spotlight continues its feature this week of posting questions from the PARCC practice tests each day. Today, it’s three sample questions from the math section for PARCC’s youngest test-takers in the third grade.

The correct answers will be provided tomorrow, and for those taking yesterday’s sample, the correct answers are at the end of the story.


Use the information provided to answer Part A and Part B for question 6.

Cindy is finding the quotient for 27 ÷ 9. She says, “The answer is 18 because addition is the opposite of division and 9 + 18 = 27.”

Part A Identify the incorrect reasoning in Cindy’s statement. Enter your explanation in the space provided.

Part B Show or explain how Cindy can correct her reasoning.

Find the quotient when 27 is divided by 9.

Enter your answer and your work or explanation in the space provided.

Mia placed point P on the number line.

PARCC arrow

  • Give the value of the number P as a fraction.
  • What does the denominator of your fraction represent on the number line?
  • What does the numerator of your fraction represent on the number line?
  • Enter your answer and your explanation in the space provided.

Correct answers to Monday’s 5th grade language arts samples : Part A: 4 Part B: 1 Part C: 2 Part D: 2




Other topics to be tackled include criteria for linking student performance to teacher evaluations

Time: 10 a.m. RELATED LINKS Where:New Jersey Department of Education, 1st-floor conference room, 100 River View Plaza, Trenton


State Board of Education Agenda

Proposed Professional Standards Code

Proposed Educator Preparation Standards

What they are doing: The State Board will delve into a voluminous package of changes being proposed by the Christie administration regarding how future teachers are prepared in colleges and universities and how they are supported once they are hired. Public testimony is scheduled.

In addition, the board will hear a presentation on the state’s policies on linking student performance scores to individual teachers through what are called “student growth percentiles” (SGP).

What’s not on the agenda: Despite all the public attention being paid to the statewide PARCC testing, which starts this week, the board does not have a specific time slot set aside for discussion of the much-debated exams. Still, with top state education officials in the room, the board’s president thinks the topic is sure to come up.

“There may be some questions, but no formal discussion is scheduled,” said Mark Biedron, the board’s president. “We’re now at wait-and-see.”

Teacher preparation: The administration’s package is complicated enough as it is, with hundreds of pages in code changes covering everything from the classroom hours required for student teachers to the components of the state’s popular “alternate route” process. The proposals were unveiled at the last board meeting, and members have started to get feedback on different parts of the plan, including some resistance.

Public testimony: The public hearing part of the meeting starts at 2 p.m., with about 20 people signed up to testify.

SGPs explained: The board invited the administration to give a presentation on the use of the SGPs in teacher evaluation, a topic at the heart of protests over the new PARCC testing and its impact on teacher evaluation.

“I think there is a lot of misinformation about SGPs and how they are calculated,” Biedron said. “I’m not so sure myself, and that’s why we’ve asked them to come before us.”

Assistant education commissioners Bari Erlichson and Peter Shulman will make the presentation.

Other topics: The board will see a video presentation on the state’s anti-bullying law, part of a new public campaign by the Christie administration.

The board will also hold its final vote on a proposal for “Qualified Zone Academy Bonds,” a financing program designed specifically for charter schools.