Union BOE says district is ready for PARCC test

UNION, NJ — Despite strong resistance locally and statewide over PARCC, the board of education said the testing will go on as scheduled next month. However, parents against the testing do have an out.

Although the school board has reserved comment on the growing parental rebellion against the controversial PARCC testing, newly appointed board president David Arminio released a statement to clear up any misunderstanding or confusion over how the school district will proceed on this issue.

PARCC, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will be New Jersey’s first experience next month with online testing.

This education overhaul was supposed to develop more rigorous academic standards nationwide, known as Common Core, but critics maintain it will do more damage than clearly define whether students in grades 3 through 12 are actually prepared for what they want to do after graduation.

Adding fuel to the fire is that PARCC will be used to judge school’s, students’ and teachers’ performance, which caused a grassroots movement locally, statewide and throughout the nation to stop PARCC in its tracks.

New Jersey State Education Commissioner David Hespe backed off the hard stance he took in early December when he said parents did not have any options when it came to PARCC testing. Later he tempered that statement after it appeared the movement against the testing was growing larger and getting the ear of the media.

“Every school district should apply its own policies,” he said in January, but this did not mean school districts could opt out of the testing, just that there was an out for parents to refuse PARCC testing for their child.

The Union school board, while quiet on the issue since the beginning of the year, has listened attentively to parents’ concerns but reserved much comment on how things would proceed. The statement by Arminio, while not what objecting parents wanted to hear, clarified where the board stood in relation to the testing that will begin next month.

The school district fully intends to comply with state law, according to the statement, and move forward with the computer-based testing, but there was little doubt the board empathized with parents and educators who feel the flaws outweigh the benefits for students when it comes to PARCC testing.

“Only a short time ago a park was a place where one might go to take a walk, to relax, or to relieve stress. Now the word PARCC creates anxiety and stress for students, parents, teachers, administrators, and yes, even board of education members,” Arminio said.

The school board president stressed that although the school district acknowledged the mixed feelings parents, students and teachers had, the district had no choice when it came to giving the tests.

“The Township of Union Board of Education is obligated by law to follow the directives of the Commissioner of Education and State Board of Education,” said Arminio, adding this directive was “spelled out” in a memo Hespe sent Oct. 30. Hence, they continued to move forward and lay the educational groundwork required.

In order to accomplish this directive, the board president explained, the school district held several information sessions to review the PARCC requirements and practice testing information.The results, though, did show areas of concern.

The district found that while they were prepared with the right testing devices and broadband required for the computerized test, they continued to have concerns with unforeseen issues that could occur, including site interruptions and loss of Internet connection.

Likewise, the stress students and teachers have been under prior to this testing did not escape the school board or its president.

“The district is justifiably concerned about the stress incurred by students and staff from a standardized test of this magnitude,” Arminio said, explaining that recent informational sessions on test procedures and logistics, such as one that took place Jan. 22, hopefully would go a long way in alleviating some of that concern.

In the meantime, in order to comply with the state issued directive on PARCC, Arminio explained where the school district is at this point in preparation for the testing.

“We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that we have enough bandwidth to cover the requirements of the testing and that each school has enough computers to facilitate the administering of the PARCC,” the school board president explained.

Arminio also explained that students have been preparing for PARCC testing during computer classes and regularly scheduled computer lab time.

However, while objectors have insisted that regular classroom instruction is suffering because of this, Arminio insisted it has continued as required by law.

“The board is aware of the time constraints needed for administering PARCC. Each school principal has created a schedule based on school size to help facilitate the most efficient use of time and resources with the least impact on instructional time,” he added.

School district teachers and administrators have also prepared for administering the testing through professional development and information sessions that began in 2013.

For example, Assistant Superintendent Noreen Lishak recently attended a state run workshop on test administration, including one held Jan. 27 that focused on PARCC technology requirements.

Arminio also addressed the controversial and confusing issue of parents “opting out” their child from PARCC testing. This has resulted in much confusion, but the school board president explained the confusion could be in the wording of how this procedure worked.

The school board president said although parents in other states have the recourse of “opting out” of PARCC if they do not feel the testing is right for their children, New Jersey does not recognize this wording. In fact, Arminio explained, Hespe mentioned this in the memo the district received in October. But, there is a way to handle removing a student from testing.The school board president said parents can send a letter to the principal of their child’s school requesting that they not participate in PARCC testing. The issue of where these students will go and more importantly, what they will do during these hours of testing, could still be an issue.

Union school district students will be allowed to attend school on testing days, but will be sequestered in a supervised area where they can work on previous assignments or read a book that they personally bring to school. There will be no classroom instruction during this testing that is expected to take as much as ten school hours, or more.

Arminio and the board did not lose sight of the toll the controversy has taken on everyone concerned and looked to the future as a beacon of hope.

“The board of education is as concerned as parents, staff, administration and most of all, our children,” the school board president said, adding “Maybe in the near future PARCC can once again return to its original meaning of a stress free place.”