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4-8-14 PARCC Testing Remains Controversial for Some
NJ Spotlight - Hespe Assures Senate Panel PARCC Is on Track, Despite Lingering Doubts...Technology readiness remains largest concern, with recent reports showing only 70 percent of field trials were up to the task

"...Hespe [Acting Education Commissioner] told the Senate committee that the field tests had so far exceeded expectations, but have not been without their glitches. “We have identified some problems, but as they arise, they are being resolved,” he said. “Every field test has its problems, that’s why we do them . . . We remain very optimistic that we will be ready.”

Press of Atlantic City - Schools still have concerns after field trial for computer-based state tests..."Kevin Urtubey, IT director for the Egg Harbor Township schools, said there were some minor issues with the fifth-grade language arts test, but he is more concerned about having enough time and technology to test some 7,500 students next year. The Miller School has two computer labs with 65 computers for 1,200 students who will all have to be tested in the two 20-day windows..."

As New Jersey moves deeper into online student testing, cost and capacity continue to be key concerns, with updates doing little to quell the questions.

Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe last week provided the latest word on both topics, when he spoke before the state Senate budget committee. He discussed whether districts were up to the demands of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) -- a statewide assessment of students using online testing

PARCC is being field tested in more than 1,000 New Jersey schools this spring, and will go statewide in grades 3-11 in 2015.

He said the most recent district surveys, from late February, indicate that 70 percent are ready, both in terms of the number of devices on hand and the bandwidth to transmit questions and answers.

That leaves close to a third of the districts unprepared, but despite some pointed questions as to whether there was a backup plan, Hespe maintained he was confident that the schools would be ready in time.

“We are developing a contingency, where some could be taking the [first year of the] test in paper and pencil,” Hespe told the committee. “But our expectation remains that every student will be taking it through a computer device.”

Hespe said much of the readiness question has been monitored through an outside firm, North Highland Consulting, hired under a $1 million contract to gauge how schools are preparing for the new exams, which will be administered in math and language arts.

Those exams are being field tested in scores of schools across the state over the next month. So far, reviews have been mixed -- both of the exams and of how ready the schools are for online evaluations.

Hespe told the Senate committee that the field tests had so far exceeded expectations, but have not been without their glitches.

“We have identified some problems, but as they arise, they are being resolved,” he said. “Every field test has its problems, that’s why we do them . . . We remain very optimistic that we will be ready.”

The committee also pored over the cost of the new assessments, with the state seeing a one-year spike of more than $11 million in testing costs for next year. This year, the state spent $19.8 million for the state-wide assessments, and Gov. Chris Chris Christie’s budget for fiscal 2015 sees it rising to $30.9 million.

Hespe’s staff said $7 million of the increase is in one-time costs due to the phase-out of the existing high school test, known as the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), which needs to be given one more year for students who don’t pass this year.

An additional $1 million is for the consultant, they said, and the state will also will be field testing a new kindergarten assessment next year.

The administration has maintained that overall, the new testing under PARCC will not cost any more than current tests, although a final contract with the next test administrator remains to be settled.

Press of Atlantic City - Schools still have concerns after field trial for computer-based state tests

By DIANE D’AMICO Education Writer | Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014 4:13 pm

Local school districts reported some technology glitches as they wrapped up the second week of field testing for new computer-based state tests next year. While none of the problems were catastrophic, school officials said they are still concerned about being prepared for actual testing next year.

Primary concerns include having enough trained staff to monitor the tests and equipment, having enough computers to complete testing on time, and having all of those computers be unavailable for other use during the 40 days of testing in 2015.

“We’ve been advised by Pearson (the company developing the tests) that we should not use the computers for anything else during testing,” said Scott Sarraiocco, technology coordinator in Absecon and chairman of the Atlantic County Technology Coordinators. “That means almost all of our computers will not be available for other use for almost 25 percent of the school year.”

New Jersey is among 14 states and the District of Columbia participating in field tests of the new state tests as part of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. About 70 percent of all public schools in New Jersey have a sample group of students taking sections of the new tests.

Local school officials reported both positive reaction and concern. They said most students seem to like taking the test on a computer, though the fact that it was just practice may have reduced the normal test anxiety.

Seventh- and eighth-graders in Absecon took the new language arts test, and two out of three students interviewed liked the computer version better.

“It was almost fun,” said John Farinelli, 14.

“Typing the essay was easier because you don’t have to worry about your handwriting being neat,” said Delaney Dooley, 14,

Diana Logue, 14, said she’s not a big fan of computers, and called the test just OK. She said there were a lot of paragraphs to read, and lot of features students could use in writing, but students would have to know how to use them.

All three preferred doing the answers for each question on the computer rather than having to fill in paper “bubble sheets.”

Upper Township Superintendent Vincent Palmieri said students found the computer-based language arts test more organized and less intimidating than the paper version because they could only look at one page, and sometimes even one question at a time. But there were problems with Java programming on the math test, which made it less popular with students than a paper test.

Some school officials said PARCC tech support was slow. PARCC has been posting daily updates, and CEO Laura Slover posted a memo early in the week that they have been making real-time adjustments and improvements and also getting advice from school test administrators through Twitter and tech support.

Sarraiocco said that while glitches are to be expected, and no big deal when the test doesn’t count, he is worried about having all problems solved by next year.

“It was kind of scary to think what could happen in an actual test,” he said.

Hamilton Township reported just one glitch, when the second part of a language arts question never appeared. Superintendent Michelle Cappelluti said the seventh- and eighth-graders liked the computer version.

“It does take out some of the anxiety to be able to try it first,” she said.

On the academic side, students were interested in the fact that they did not all get the same reading passages which were randomly generated. Many students also finished the essay far more quickly than the time allotted, raising questions about whether the test expected a much more elaborate answer than students provided.

Somers Point Director of Curriculum and Technology Jennifer Luff said some students missed questions because they didn’t scroll down far enough, and students need to be aware that once they hit the button to move on to the next section, they cannot go back to the section they finished.

Kevin Urtubey, IT director for the Egg Harbor Township schools, said there were some minor issues with the fifth-grade language arts test, but he is more concerned about having enough time and technology to test some 7,500 students next year. The Miller School has two computer labs with 65 computers for 1,200 students who will all have to be tested in the two 20-day windows.

“We are going to need the full 20 days each time,” he said.

Cappelluti said they have computer labs plus mobile carts with laptops, chromebooks or iPads, and she will likely need them all for testing.

State officials have said that a paper and pencil option will be available, and Urtubey said he might take advantage of that at the Miller School and high school.

During a state budget hearing Thursday, acting Education Commissioner David Hespe told legislators that while his expectation is that all districts will give the test on computers in 2015, he understands the reality that some might not be ready.

“This is a change process of enormous magnitude,” he said. “We are seeing problems and solving them. We are developing contingency plans.”

Legislators questioned the allocation of just $10 per student in state aid for PARCC preparations in the 2014-15 state budget, and whether more funds should have been allocated to districts that were not ready. Hespe said it would be unfair to penalize districts that stepped up early to be ready. He said the goal is to infuse the technology into instruction, not just for testing.

But Sarraiocco found it ironic that their efforts to infuse more technology into lessons to help students prepare for computer-based testing will be shortchanged by the lack of access to the computers during the testing period.

“We use computers for everything now,” he said.

Contact Diane D'Amico: 609-272-7241 DDamico@pressofac.com

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828