Ruiz has ‘concerns’ about Murphy PARCC proposals

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement Tuesday that he’s calling for a phase out of the controversial PARCC test.

Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz has concerns about some details. Among them, the governor’s call to reduce the number of tests required to graduate high school from six to two, and make one of them the 10th grade English test instead of the 11th grade.

“We’re going to move from 11th grade testing to 10th grade testing in English. So, when we think about that dynamic, we think about we’re really reducing a bench mark for high school graduation,” Ruiz said.

The governor wants to eliminate ninth grade testing, another concern of Ruiz’s. We are a society that tests, she says, and she defends the usefulness of PARCC.

“We always kept hearing the same thing: stop teaching to the test. We want to create critical thinkers. This test allows for that,” she said.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test was rolled out in 2014 under the Christie administration. It was instantly controversial. It was an online test and subject to computer glitches, and it was hard and time-consuming.

Schools have gotten more used to it now, but the governor campaigned on a promise to end PARCC.

Julia Sass Rubin is a Rutgers professor who does research on education policy. She is happy the governor is lowering the graduation requirements.

“The current regulations under the Christie administration are not appropriate. A lot of students would have had trouble graduating, but graduation regulations in any form that involve high stakes testing like this are just a bad idea. New Jersey is one of only 13 states that still has them. We’re, unfortunately, at the slow end of getting rid of bad ideas,” said Rubin.

She’s particularly concerned about students in low-income districts.

“It’s a very time-intensive test. The proficiency levels were cut artificially high. The PARCC consortium set the proficiency level to four out of five, which is really like an A. So, when you ask children to reach an A level, by definition they’re going to fail,” she said.

“In its initial stages it was too long. The data from it didn’t come back to educators and families soon enough,” said Betsy Ginsburg, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, an alliance of 100 mainly suburban districts.

She calls Murphy’s phase out of PARCC a good first step.

“I think what we’re doing now is a thoughtful transition from PARCC to the next test, and we don’t know yet what that test will be,” Ginsburg said.

Federal law requires testing in grades three through eight and one year of high school, so something will replace PAARC.

Some of Murphy’s proposals need approval from the State Board of Education, where they were introduced Wednesday and could take months to hash out.

Ruiz thinks PARCC is still viable and was just badly rolled out.

“We did a terrible job in the public relations component of explaining what the department was going to do, and that’s not unique to New Jersey. That happened across this country. And I think people used it for their own vested interest and an opportunity to deter what the focus was, which was to create a tool of assessment to make sure that our students would be college or career ready,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz predicts a new test from a new provider will be rolled out in a year or two. In the meantime, schools and teachers will welcome a downshift to ‘PARCC light.’