How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Pros & cons of PARCC

I recently received a large 6½-inch-by-8-inch laminated postal card listing a plethora of reason that West Windsor-Plainsboro parents should refuse to have their children take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test. I have not been able to determine who sent the card, and that really bothers me.

What is PARCC? It is New Jersey's computer-based statewide test that is administered to students in grades 3 through 1. It was created to measure a student's ability to apply knowledge of concepts rather than memorize facts. It will count as 10 percent factor in the evaluation of English and math teachers in grades 4 through 8.

Christine Capaci, director of data, assessment and accountability in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District wrote in letter to parents: "These computer based assessments are aligned with English Language Arts and Mathematic content standards and are designed to determine a child's ability to think critically, solve problems, and use information from what they read and write to develop essays."

PARCC is not a requirement to graduate from high school at this time, but districts are required to administer standardized tests. A proposal before the state Board of Education could make it a graduation requirement for all students in 2020. Advocates of PARCC contend that the exam measures what students need to know in math and literacy in order to get into college and view the exam as a tool that is aligned with what we expect teachers to teach in classrooms.

The PARCC test is highly controversial. The New Jersey Education Association opposes the test and decries its use in teacher evaluation and as a graduation requirement. An increasing number of parents are opting not to have their child take the test (130,000 students last year). Many educators and parents feel there are too many standardized test that take time away from real education, and too much pressure is being put on students to do well on these exams. They see it as an infringement upon local school curriculums and their budgets.

Criticism will, no doubt, increasing following the recent glitch by Pearson Education, the private vendor administering the PARCC test. The problem prevented New Jersey schools from taking the test on April 20. Aside from the disruption, districts had to incur the cost of substitutes hired to cover classes during the testing for doing nothing.

Jim Scanlon, the superintendent of the West Chester Area School District, a Pennsylvania lighthouse district, wrote the following in letters to district parents regarding the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test: "The amount of time and worry spent on these tests is dizzy. We are stressing out our students, teachers, administrators, and parents, and I believe it is simply time to stop and do what we feel is best for our students. ... Our current testing climate is simply toxic."

The card with the unknown author I mentioned earlier urges parents to refuse to have their child take the PARCC for the following reasons:

"Lowers academic achievement by TWO grade levels!"

"Prepares kids for community college, not 4-year schools."

"Precludes students form attending elite colleges."

"Written by people who aren't required to have a bachelor's degree or education experience!"

"They used a made-up scale to hide the real scores."

"Normally, 28% correct is an 'F'... but PARRC calls it 'above average.' But the test isn't rigorous."

Many of the above statements are over-the-top, cite selective authorities (the two individuals of the five who refused to sign off on the Core Competency State Standards), are factually misleading or misrepresent what the test is forcing districts to do (WWP school board President Tony Fleres indicated, "There is nothing that stops us from offering AP tests").

There does seem to be agreement on one point mentioned on the card, i.e., the test "takes valuable classroom time — time that could be spent learning." WWP Superintendent David Aderhold in an interview agreed that PARCC "takes an extreme amount of instructional time."

Martin Smith, the WWP assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, in the same interview got it right when he indicated "some sort of standardized testing will always be there." According to Smith, the key is "not to overemphasize the test." As imperfect as PARCC is, it does provide data to districts on how they are performing against students across New Jersey and the U.S., and raises red flags regarding areas a child needs attention in. That's why organizations such as the NAACP, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the New Jersey Association of School Administrators continue to support the test.

The most compelling problem New Jersey faces is the inability of our urban schools to educate their students. If PARCC does nothing more than annually point out the gross inequality of our state's public education system, it is valuable. If too many parents opt out, the data will be compromised and the dramatic difference between urban schools and other schools will be artificially minimized. This, like the charter school movement, could have the devastating effect of reducing pressure to improve our state's failing inner-city schools.