PARCC Critics Call on Sweeney to Help Stop Test as Grad Requirement

By David Cruz

The thing about today’s press conference is that it featured members of the usual progressive coalition. These folks are generally on the same side, but opponents of the PARCC tests and fellow Democratic lawmakers were urging Senate President Steve Sweeney to allow a vote on a Senate resolution aimed at putting the brakes on the controversial testing regime.

“PARCC is not a basic skills test. It’s a much more difficult test that leaves a lot of our students unable to pass it. In fact, just 41 percent of New Jersey seniors were able to pass both PARCC English language arts and math. This leads to students dropping out of high school, students leaving high school without a diploma and we believe it feeds the school to prison pipeline,” said Save Our Schools NJ Executive Director Susan Cauldwell.

That may sound like a lot to put on a test, even if half the kids don’t pass it, but Stan Karp of the Education Law Center says it is that serious, citing research that suggests that states with tough exit exams saw increased incarceration rates among kids and showed no real correlation between the exams and kids scoring better careers.

“Exit tests are really the trap doors of the education world and they don’t help the kids who pass the tests and they hurt the kids who don’t very much,” Karp said. “We can now have thousands of students who pass all their credits and meet all their requirements, who meet the attendance and service requirements not graduate from high school. That doesn’t help anybody.”

Which explains, in part, why this coalition is looking to get rid of the PARCC graduation requirement, which has already been put off until 2021. State Board of Ed regulations would require students to pass the PARCC English language arts portion in the 10th grade, as opposed to the 11th, as prescribed by the Legislature back in 1979. The algebra side of the test would be taken in the year the student took the course, as opposed to the 11th grade required by the Legislature.

“Clearly, the State Board of Education’s revised regulation … is inconsistent with, and violates the intent of, the Legislature …” says an April 20 letter from Sens. Sweeney and Teresa Ruiz. That pretty much mirrors the sentiments of an Assembly resolution. But the problem is, the Senate president won’t allow for a vote on a concurring resolution in the Senate.

“I have no idea why Senate president nor Sen. Ruiz will not post the bill, particularly because their letter agrees that what the board did was in violation of the constitution and it was in violation of the intent of the Legislature,” said Sen. Nia Gill.

“The next step, following that letter is to actually post that bill, but he would be the person that you’d want to ask why,” said Assemblywoman Marlene Caride.

So, we did. A couple of times. But got no answer. The Senate passing the resolution would give the state board 30 days to change or withdraw its regulations. Failing that, the Legislature could adopt a second resolution invalidating PARCC as a graduation exam. But, that too, would need to get a green light from the Senate president. And today suggests that the light on that is still red.