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.