EDUCATION

Education Commissioner Defends PARCC Test

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

“Measurement brings with it a tremendous amount of pushback because no one really likes to be measured,” said Education Commissioner David Hespe.

Hespe offered a vigorous defense of the PARCC test this morning.

He told members of the Senate Education Committee New Jersey has been testing students for years, going back to the Minimum Basic Skills Test in the ’80s, the core curriculum content standards in the ’90s and the High School Proficiency Assessment and NJASK tests of the 2000s.

“We always want to say how do we prepare for the future? Well, this is how you prepare for the future, by setting academic standards high, college and career readiness high,” Hespe said.

PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

It’s a roughly seven-hour test administered to students in third through 11th grade.

It began in earnest two weeks ago, and 250,000 New Jersey students per day are taking it.

It’s caused an uproar among some students, parents and teachers.

“What I’m concerned about is the fact that I’m hearing so much negativity from parents,” said Sen. Shirley Turner.

“You’re mentioning superintendents. Not all superintendents have bought into this,” said Sen. Jim Beach.

“Senator, you know me. I problem solve. And if a problem arises, we’re gonna work through it,” Hespe said.

The NJEA opposes the test, fearing it will be used to evaluate teachers.

Some students and parents say the test is too difficult or badly written.

“Just as many students you might have heard that it’s very challenging, I’ve heard they don’t know what all the fuss is, they thought it was very manageable,” Hespe said.

Another criticism is that the test is given on computer, which makes it costly and prone to technical glitches.

“Our goal is to prepare our students for the future, and that’s part of their future — computer administration,” Hespe said.

Hespe acknowledged that in some districts too many students are opting out of the test.

“In some high schools, participation is definitely a problem,” he said.

Gov. Chris Christie supports PARCC.

“Before you even know whether the test has efficacy or not, don’t opt your kids out of it,” he said.

Despite having heard parental misgivings, Senate Education Chair Teresa Ruiz gave PARCC an important endorsement today.

“Are we ready to raise the bar and not be afraid of not getting it in the first year but reinvesting, supporting, circling back, having conversations about changing policies, restructuring. Are we ready to take it to the next level? And I am committed to doing that as chair of the Education Committee, to working with the DOE and every singled stakeholder group that’s here,” she said.

Others disagree.

“I think it’s really stunning that a deliberative body would give two and a half hours to a political entity with no counter voices,” said Julia Sass Rubin.

Hespe made an impassioned case for the PARCC exam here today. We’re not doing testing “to” students and teachers, he said. We’re doing it “for” students and teachers. Whether that assuages the hard-core opponents of PARCC remains to be seen.