Education Commissioner David Hespe appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Mar. 12 to testify about the PARCC testing which has caused much debate in New Jersey. The commissioner, along with Bari Erlichson, assistant commissioner, strongly defended PARCC.

Hespe told the committee that the PARCC launch has gone well and he added that participation was “very strong” despite the movement in the state to encourage parents and students to “opt-out,” or refuse to take the test. Hespe said that technology for the new online tests had caused minor concerns, but seemed to be working in most districts.

The commissioner also testified that there are a lot of misconceptions about the test and that he wanted to address the concerns. He explained that in the last two weeks approximately 275,000 children have successfully taken the tests in New Jersey.

Hespe noted that testing is a federal requirement for all schools; federal funds could be jeopardized, including Title 1 and IDEA funds. Special needs students are permitted accommodations in taking the test, and translation is also available for English Language Learners.  If students are new to the country, there are exemptions.

The commissioner pointed out the high number of students who need remedial instruction in subjects after high school. Hespe said that 50 percent of students who have graduated are not judged to be prepared for college or careers, while approximately 40 percent are not proficient in reading, math, English and science, and 70 percent of students in community colleges are required to take remedial courses because of their low scores on the English and math placement tests. He stated that most standardized tests, including the SATs, are moving to an online, computer-based system.

Common Core Not New The PARCC assessment is designed to measure student progress toward the Common Core State Standards, which New Jersey adopted in 2010. The standards in mathematics and language arts have been phased in over a multi-year process. All schools now have curriculum that aligns with the standards.

The commissioner and Erlichson also testified about the advantages of the PARCC tests over the previously used assessments, NJ ASK and HESPA. While NJASK and HESPA provided data, the tests did not adequately assess student learning, they said. PARCC test items focus on problem-solving and critical thinking, not memorization, according to NJDOE officials. The PARCC tests will also permit state-to-state comparisons between New Jersey and other states.

Testing expenses vary among districts, depending on needs, according to the commissioner. He said the actual cost for testing comes to approximately $30 per student, and noted that online testing technology makes the PARCC cheaper than a pencil-and-paper test.

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