Experts discuss pros, cons of new PARCC test

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Late last week two key players came together to discuss the pros and cons of the controversial PARCC testing. In the end, both agreed the state had not communicated the issues effectively to parents but disagreed whether the problems that have surfaced can be resolved.

Although David Hespe declined appearing on the hour-long 101.5 FM radio show airing Jan. 29, both Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association and Sandra Alberti, an educator and former director of academic standards for the New Jersey Department of Education, weighed in on the issue.

The congenial discussion brought out strong feelings about the topic that has been a hot button issue in New Jersey for many months.

Alberti, who has been involved with PARCC since the beginning, which was several years ago, explained the search for new testing had everything to do with the fact that some students were graduating from high school, going on to college and finding they needed remedial classes to keep up. Eventually, she said, these students ended up not getting a degree and that was a problem in the eyes of the state.

“We knew going into PARCC that this was a high stakes assessment,” Alberti said, explaining this type of testing requires students to build a pathway to comprehension rather than just answering a question.

Steinhauer agreed the concept was right, but felt how the problem was addressed was wrong.
“What Sandra said does all sound good, but now its online and schools don’t have enough bandwidth or computers. Now you have kids who don’t know keyboards but navigating the test is half of it,” he said, adding the technology component was a real issue.

“We’re talking about 3rd graders, 4th graders and so on. Some that have grown up in this tablet world,” the president of the NJEA explained, pointing out students are suddenly faced with using a ‘mouse’ and ‘click and drag,’ and that was more than a problem.

Steinhauer also thought PARCC used “trick questions” in its testing and that gave the impression of a “gotcha test.”
“We are setting up kids to fail,” he said frankly, but Alberti did not agree with that assessment.

She explained the alternative would be to not administer the test and go back to such testing as the NJASK, which proved to be an ineffective measuring tool for how students really were progressing educationally.

Alberti did admit feedback from parents and educators should have been in the picture earlier in the process.
“There never has been the kind of parental involvement with heat, debate, pushback, so there was no process to handle it,” the educator said, admitting “we’re late to the game in communicating effectively, directly to parents.”

“That is absolutely true and we are paying the price for that now,” Alberti added.
Scott brought up that there had been considerable “anger and revolt,” asking Alberti if that should give the state pause, but while she admitted this groundswell had risen to an unexpected level, she would not admit it would defeat the process.

“Sometimes I say to myself that if all this energy that is being put into objecting to PARCC was put into educating our students, boy, what schools we would have,” Alberti added.

A question about parents opting out their children from PARCC came up, specifically why there had been such disparity about whether it could be done or not.

Steinhauer explained the state had “laid down rules” and then changed them. He stressed that while parents who refuse to let their child take the testing is an option, being left in a classroom to “sit and stare” was not.

“Sit and stare is the lowest level of what a school board can do,” he added, suggesting parents get involved with the grassroots group Save Our School NJ.

Alberti’s fear was that so many parents would not allow their children to take the test that a realistic evaluation would not be attained by PARCC.

“Then the assessment would be compromised and not all kids will be represented,” she said.
Steinhauer was a strong proponent of parents advocating for their children, pointing out that Alberti said teachers have been preparing students for PARCC all year.

“God forbid you say something, but kids are going to school in tears. That is not what education is about,” he said, and Alberti admitted things had slipped through the cracks.

“I get it. We don’t have enough transparency but its too early in the process. PARCC is generations better for our kids,” the educator said, adding “we have never had a better opportunity than we have now.”

“I think we need trust and confidence. There is real work to be done,” Alberti added, but Steinhauer felt things had gone too far and finding a solution at this point would be impossible.

“I have looked at it and I’ve tried. I don’t think there is a fix to it, quite honestly,” he said, but he did feel that everyone should sit down and reassess things after the first round of testing ends in April.

“I would be really interested in the reactions from parents, students and teachers in April,” Steinhauer said, challenging the state to take an honest look at how PARCC fared at that point.

One Response to "Experts discuss pros, cons of new PARCC test"

  1. David Di Gregorio   February 7, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    I informed my local board of education during public comment that my son (6) will not be sitting for the PARCC testing (if it is still around) when he reaches third grade. I am quite serious as I feel PARCC and everything behind it is not in the best interest of any student – any teacher – any grade. Testing 8 year olds for career readiness is in itself inappropriate. Basically Common Core attempts to centralize everything – and this robs the spirit from the classroom. I feel this process it is hurtful to students for several reasons not limited to these:
    1. PARCC will be administered on computer rather than paper which places pressure on our youngest of students to learn keyboarding (my son is already learning in first grade) and be exposed to computers even before they have had the experience and develop the proper motor skill to form letters correctly. The computer forms letters perfectly at the push of a button. In the perfect world I would prefer students be on computer much later. Students would benefit by working with real materials rather than inundating elementary schools with I-pads, laptops, “smart-boards” and all the other hardware “sugaring” up classrooms our youngest occupy. Tight school budgets are spending yet more on hardware just to accommodate computerized PARCC. It would make much more sense to give just one test on paper. A school’s network infrastructure, computer operating systems, and labs are not designed as a professional testing center is – and should not be. Tests of this kind are documents that require paper and are more practical on paper. Give an appropriate and elegant test once per year on paper and get the results to their teachers in a week. Perhaps that might be helpful.
    2. The type of questions I found on PARCC in taking a practice test caused me a huge headache as they were twisted and confusing. I would not subject a young mind to such an assessment. In addition, activities in the classroom should not be centered on what is on this test. This robs the classroom of spontaneity – teaching moments – and valuable digression into areas of interest. A one size fits all top down totalitarian style mandated test is counter to our land’s free and open spirit.
    3. Data collection – I will not have 400 points of data collected on my son and held in a database of a private company (already under investigation) for unknown future use. Centralizing this is an invasion of my son’s privacy and disrespectful. I will not have a third party testing company hold his data. Every parent needs to be concerned about this – it is Un-American! More than enough data to inform instruction can be obtained in various ways within the school itself.
    4. Two tests per year are given. Massive amounts of instructional time is lost. Two tests because they will be used to evaluate teacher performance. This is flawed logic. There are way too many variables in the lives of students that can have dramatic effects on how they do in school. In addition, over evaluate a staff and you will have no time to inspire – no energy to motivate. Yet more tests, in most cases, are also administered for the so called “Student Growth Objectives“ – one more bad idea gone wild. Administrators have more than enough information within the building to inform instruction. In addition, local school districts are surrendering to a micromanaging overreach by the federal and state governments – as are teachers. What will be next? Teacher lesson plans from headquarters? We are going down a dangerous and undemocratic road.
    An educational leader, in my opinion, must be a catalyst – must be the cause of positive excitement about the world – like of the world, real curiosity, knowing of the world! The American poet and philosopher Eli Siegel stated “The purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it“ and I wholeheartedly agree. I hope Mr. Hespe and other leaders will find out more about his philosophy and teaching method.
    I believe that we are presently in a situation where teachers and students are not lifted up – but instead, insulted through SGOs, endless data collection, performance rubrics, and more. A once more collegial relationship is being replaced by a corporate style data collecting and crunching top down management – (a la McDonald’s) filling out endless computerized evaluations of teachers digitally warehoused by a centralized and privatized third party company. If more weight were given to supporting and lifting our teachers – more resources given to motivating, exciting, and further educating them – it would, in my opinion, be very wise – as our students, our children, my child, would benefit. We are missing that boat all should be on – parents, teachers, administrators, elected, BOE members, and our children.
    I intend to be a vocal critic / advocate for my son and all his classmates at PTA meetings, BOE meetings and even council meetings in my own town. I hope more and more parents will object to mandating of Common Core / PARCC / teacher over- evaluation, and hope that the state reconsiders how it sees its schools, its teachers, and all its young residents across a most uneven (and unfair) financial spectrum. What is desperately needed is people centered decisions and laws – not profit centered.
    I believe Dr. Maria Montessori saw children as individuals and respected the differences – and different rates of development found in each young mind – this is needed – not a one size fits all (profit centered) approach.
    Most importantly, in order to have schools be more successful everywhere, the state must work hard to close the huge financial gap within and between communities and lift communities rather than attempting to privatize schools in the most needy areas. That is no solution and an ugly cop out by our government that increasingly seems to be on the side of the profiteers – not the people.
    David Di Gregorio, Parent
    Englewood Cliffs