Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Melissa Katz and I am a junior in the 5-year Integrated Bachelor’s and Master of Arts in Teaching in Urban Elementary Education at The College of New Jersey. Today I would like to speak about PARCC testing and the “unintended consequences” that some are claiming are due to the refusal/opt-out movement.
At our last board of education meeting in my local town of South Brunswick on Monday, January 4, 2016, our board Vice President stated the following: “Throughout the state, there are an inordinate amount of students that are not qualified to graduate. That is almost directly a result of the (PARCC) opt-out movement.” As our local reporters shared, “According to [the board vice president], the PARCC testing was one of several ‘pathways to graduation,’ which also included SAT, PSAT and other testing, as well as a student ‘portfolio’ that are mandated by the state. [Board Vice President] said that, inadvertently, many ‘at risk’ students who did not have other testing or portfolios in place when they decided not to participate in the PARCC testing last spring, now find themselves lacking some of the requirements. ‘It did have an effect on students that were at risk in a much more disproportionate way. It was very unfortunate that it wasn’t foreseen by the people pushing that movement.’” According to our Board of Education, this information is coming directly from the Department of Education.
A memo from the Department of Education dated September 30, 2014 — well before the first administration of the PARCC test in March and May of 2015 — stated that students graduating in 2016, 2017, and 2018 (and as of a memo from September 9, 2015, also the class of 2019) would be able to satisfy the state requirements of demonstrating proficiency in English Language Arts and Mathematics by: Achieving a passing score on a PARCC ELA/Math assessment OR Achieving a passing score on a substitute competency test OR Meeting the criteria of the NJDOE Portfolio Appeal. This same memo detailed the passing score on substitute assessments such as the SAT, ACT, ASVAB-AFQT, Accuplacer Writer or Accuplacer Math. Therefore students, parents, and schools knew well before the administration of the PARCC tests, and subsequent refusals, that there would be other avenues to reach graduation aside from the PARCC test. The NJDOE Assistant Commissioner also confirmed that students do not have to take and fail the PARCC test before being eligible to use those alternative means of meeting their graduation requirement. New Jersey is currently the only state using PARCC as an optional criteria for high school graduation, despite the test not having yet been validated as an accurate or reliable measure.
One of the main questions that remains is: would those “at risk” students have even passed the PARCC test cut scores? As the Education Law Center (ELC) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated in their release “Students Sue to Force NJDOE to Adopt New Graduation Rules,” “Concerns have been raised about the potential impact of the proposed policies, especially on at-risk students, English language learners (ELL), students with disabilities, and students with other special needs. For example, the elimination of the AHSA, the alternative assessment, will close a pathway to graduation used by as many as 10,000 students annually, including more than half of all ELL graduates. The use of fee-based commercial tests, including the SAT and ACT, as high school graduation exams also raises questions about equal access and the alignment of these tests with state standards. In addition, expanded use of the ‘appeals’ process could place a significant new burden on high school guidance departments, especially in high poverty districts.”
This is truly an attempt to shift the responsibility of the PARCC disaster to parents and stakeholders, rather than the Department of Education taking responsibility for a failed rollout of a test that has yet to be validated as a measure of student learning — and will likely tell us very little if nothing that we did not know before the administration of the test, as much of the research on high stakes standardized tests has concluded. If the Department of Education was truly concerned for and about “at risk” students they would’ve listened to the public outcry around this test and all high stakes standardized tests and sought alternative measures, such as portfolio based assessments. Additionally, if the Department was concerned about “at risk” students, the millions of dollars poured into the PARCC test and all subsequent endeavors connected to PARCC would’ve been put into schools; for example, to provide support and wraparound services and more school counselors.
I would hope that this State Board of Education feels a responsibility to the public to ensure that the information coming out of the Department of Education is reliable and true. Thank you for your time today, and I hope to see this issue addressed with the Commissioner and the Department of Education in the near future.
Further Resources on Issues with Exit Exams:
Why Graduation Tests/Exit Exams Fail to Add Value to High School Diplomas: http://fairtest.org/testing-and-grade-retention
Exit Exams Decrease Graduation Rates: http://www.fairtest.org/exit-exams-decrease-graduation-rates
Tap Into South Brunswick/Cranbury Article dated January 5, 2016: Unintended Consequences: Some PARCC ‘Opt-Outs’ May Face Graduating Challenge In South Brunswick https://www.tapinto.net/towns/south-brunswick-cranbury/articles/unintended-consequences-some-parcc-opt-outs-ma
Memo dated September 9, 2015: Graduation Requirements for the Class of 2019 https://education.state.nj.us/broadcasts/2015/SEP/09/14043/Graduation%20Requirements%20Class%20of%202019.pdf
Memo dated September 30, 2014: Graduation Requirements Class of 2016, 2017, and 2018 http://www.nj.gov/education/intervention/memos/093014grad.pdf
Save Our Schools New Jersey: Frequently Asked Questions about the PARCC http://www.saveourschoolsnj.org/parcc-faq/
ELC/ACLU: Students Sue to Force NJDOE to Adopt New Graduation Rules http://www.edlawcenter.org/news/archives/secondary-reform/students-sue-to-force-njdoe-to-adopt-new-graduation-rules.html
Image credit: The Asbury Park Press NJ