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2-23-15 Education in the News: PARCC, State Budget FY'16 Issues, Newark..

Asbury Park Press - State education chief defends PARCC

David C. Hespe12:11 p.m. EST February 22, 2015

David Hespe, New Jersey Education Commissioner, defends PARCC testing, and says parents should be insisting on it.

As New Jersey schools transition to a new statewide test called PARCC, many parents are confused — and receiving conflicting information — about the new computer-based assessment. It's time to set the record straight.

When it comes to the new assessments, parents should demand a more advanced assessment like PARCC. Consider:

•Too many students are graduating high school and heading to college, only to have to take remedial classes to learn materials that they should have already learned. In fact, a full 70 percent of students entering New Jersey's county colleges can't begin their college career unless they pay for remediation classes.

•Computer-based assessments are becoming common for today's students. The GED test is now computer-based, and the SAT college-entrance exams will also be computer-based. In addition, districts have incorporated computer literacy into their curriculum.

•Our previous paper-and-pencil test, the NJASK, was a bit of a pushover. Each year, New Jersey had a number of schools where every student was proficient. We saw some schools where nearly a third of all students received a perfect score.

•The old NJASK test really didn't give any meaningful feedback to improve schools or inform parents of their child's progress. It told schools and parents whether students were proficient – and that's about all. If a child wasn't proficient, it required the school to do even more testing to pinpoint the problem areas.

•And our HSPA high-school graduation test? That was, at best, a ninth-grade test (in some higher performing schools, eighth graders could easily handle it). The result is that over half of our graduates are not adequately prepared academically for the challenges of college and careers.

To be fair, the old NJASK test did a fine job of letting the federal government know we were complying with the No Child Left Behind Act's requirement that all students in grades 3-8 be tested. But, considering that children throughout the state spent hours taking a test that didn't help improve their schools, parents should have higher expectations of our statewide assessment.

 

Let me also directly address two areas of concern that may have been the source of misinformation among some parents:

•Is PARCC used for grade advancement? For students in New Jersey, passing PARCC isn't required to advance from one grade to the next. It was not required with the former NJ ASK test, and it is not a requirement of PARCC tests.

•Will student data be protected? Protecting the privacy of student educational records is a top priority for the department. Protections are in place at both the state and federal levels, and through all contracts and agreements, intended to prevent student-identifiable data from being marketed or distributed. We have always protected — and will continue to protect — all student data.

As a parent myself, I know we want a quality education that not only helps our children fulfill their potential, but provides information that empowers parents to know how their child is progressing and whether they are on track to succeed when the go on to college or career.

Parents should expect a new test that can help improve their local schools. They should expect to get meaningful feedback on how their child is progressing academically. That's what PARCC is designed to do.

The Record - NJ Assembly to weigh scaling back scope of standardized tests

FEBRUARY 23, 2015, 8:25 AM    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2015, 8:25 AM

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Educators would be barred from using new standardized tests to determine student placement for three years under legislation moving in the New Jersey Assembly.

Lawmakers are set to vote Monday on a bill aimed at addressing some parents' concerns surrounding the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests.

The bill bars the state Education Department from using the test as a way to determine students' placement in advanced or gifted programs, beginning with the next school year and continuing through the next three school years.

It also prevents state officials from using the test as a graduation requirement.

The tests have drawn mixed reactions.

Critics argue that teachers spend too much time preparing for the test, while supporters say it deserves a chance to succeed.

Press of Atlantic City Editorial - The PARCC test / Relax, folks

Sunday Feb. 22 2015

First vaccinations. Now it's the PARCC test.  “…New Jersey already is proceeding slowly with PARCC. The test will not be used to evaluate students for placement or promotion in the 2014-15 school year. It will not be required for graduation until 2019. This year's scores will account for only 10 percent of a teacher's evaluation. And Christie has appointed a study commission to evaluate the PARCC process, and it is expected to issue a report in six to eight weeks…”

America certainly is prone to national anxiety attacks these days.

In New Jersey, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers test, which will be administered starting March 1, has sparked a critical ad campaign from the New Jersey Education Association, several unnecessary bills in the Legislature and a growing opt-out movement among parents.

And even Gov. Chris Christie, once a proponent of the Common Core State Standards that the test is based on, is backing away from the process in an apparent appeal to conservative voters.

We concede that the growth of standardized testing is a complicated issue. We agree that there can be such a thing as too much testing, which takes away from valuable instructional time both in the administration of the test and the time spent "teaching to the test." We don't think it is fair to base teacher evaluations entirely or even significantly on their students' scores on such tests.

But we also think the current hoo-ha over PARCC, which will test math and English skills in grades three through eight and in high school, is more than a little overblown.

New Jersey already is proceeding slowly with PARCC. The test will not be used to evaluate students for placement or promotion in the 2014-15 school year. It will not be required for graduation until 2019. This year's scores will account for only 10 percent of a teacher's evaluation.

And Christie has appointed a study commission to evaluate the PARCC process, and it is expected to issue a report in six to eight weeks.

So considering all that, why not withhold judgment and give the test a try?

Much of the opposition to Common Core and the PARCC test stems from the self-interest of various groups. The tea party objects to what it sees as a growing role of the federal government in education. The NJEA, of course, has long opposed linking standardized testing to teacher evaluations.

And the parents who say the test is making their children anxious are also overstating their case, in our opinion. Schools have been giving standardized tests — and students have been anxious about them — for decades. And if truth be told, parents and teachers have a lot to do with inducing that anxiety.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, D-Middle-sex, is a co-sponsor of a bill to forbid the use of PARCC results in teacher evaluations and student placement for three years. But he nonetheless seems to have the right attitude about the tests.

"Some folks are going to boo me with what I'm about to say. I think it would be helpful for everybody's kids to take this test for the next three years.... You don't know what's wrong with it really until you actually try it," he told NJ.com.

Exactly.

NJ Spotlight - NEWARK STUDENT SIT-IN ENDS WITH SUPERINTENDENT ANDERSON STILL IN PLACE

Students call action a ‘victory,’ even though state is on course to renew embattled school chief’s contract this week  “…It was NJ Communities United that promoted the sit-in through email press advisories, including a “breaking news” alert that went out Tuesday night within minutes of the students entering the offices…”

JOHN MOONEY | FEBRUARY 23, 2015

The four-day sit-in at Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s office last week grabbed the attention of local and international press, but whether the self-styled “occupation” made much of a difference is an open question.

Six students slept out for three nights in Anderson’s outer office. They made their exit Friday afternoon, after a face-to-face meeting with the superintendent.

According to a spokeswoman, the hour-long morning discussion included a commitment from the embattled superintendent for an “ongoing dialogue” with the students.

The students themselves -- who prevented Anderson and about a half-dozen staff from working in her eighth-floor office -- called the outcome a “victory.”

But the sit-in’s primary goal, at least the one most stated, was the resignation of Anderson as the state-appointed superintendent. Not only is the superintendent not resigning -- at least not yet -- but she is expected to be reappointed this week by Gov. Chris Christie for another year.

Her current contract calls for Anderson to be reappointed each year. The state must alert her of its decision for the coming school year by Sunday, March 1.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe said yesterday that her evaluation will continue into its final week, but gave clear signals that she was still in the administration’s favor.

“We continue to be pleased,” he said Sunday. “I thought there was a good opening for One Newark (reorganization plan), and she continues to work and make progress on a number of different fronts.”

When asked about the intense community and legislative criticism, especially about the One Newark plan that was implemented last fall, Hespe discounted the problems as nothing unexpected.

“She continues to make progress, and some of these things take time,” he said.

Still, renewing Anderson’s contract is likely to spur criticism and may incite continued protests. Last’s week’s sit-in was the most defiant student action to date, and among the most organized as well.

On Tuesday night, a handful of students from the Newark Students Union -- which has become a vocal and well-known force in the city -- had been attending the local advisory board’s monthly meeting on the 10th floor of the Newark schools’ downtown offices on Cedar Street.

But as they left, instead of taking the elevator all the way to the lobby, they stopped at the 8th floor and proceeded to Anderson’s executive offices, where they set up camp in the outer sitting room. (Anderson’s own office and an adjoining conference room were apparently locked.)

That touched off four dramatic days, with the stay followed hour by hour through Facebook and Twitter feeds and a prominent blog written by former Newark Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun. An online fundraising drive raised more than $4,000, and even the Al Jazeera news service dispatched a reporter.

But that’s not even close to the attention that came from both the district, which provided 24-hour security, and from state officials, including Hespe.

“We certainly followed what was happening, but we also needed to make sure (the superintendent) had full flexibility to handle what was going on,” said Hespe yesterday when asked about the state’s role.

Still, the commissioner said he was briefed each day, and top department staff were on hand in Newark. “We followed it very closely,” Hespe said.

And certainly it galvanized support from some adults as well, along with some organizational backing.

Among those taking over the offices was Thais Marques, a Newark Student Union founder who has since graduated and now works as a community organizer for NJ Communities United, a coalition of public service unions and community leaders.

It was NJ Communities United that promoted the sit-in through email press advisories, including a “breaking news” alert that went out Tuesday night within minutes of the students entering the offices.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka held two press conferences stating his support for the students, and the Newark Teachers Union delivered $100 worth of McDonalds breakfasts the first morning.

John Abeigon, a top official of the teachers union, yesterday said the organization was not involved in the planning, but gave its full moral support once the sit-in was underway.

“We certainly supported it, but we didn’t know it was happening until it was underway,” he said yesterday. “They kept it pretty close to the vest.”

Abeigon called the move a clear success, even if the primary aim of Anderson’s departure had not been accomplished.

“I think they gave the governor and the commissioner cause for pause (in considering Anderson’s contract renewal),” Abeigon said yesterday. “I mean, does the governor really want more of this when he’s running for president?”

Anderson herself kept a low profile throughout, and did not comment further over the weekend. A spokesman reiterated a statement released on Friday.

“Since the demonstration began on Tuesday, NPS has taken steps to ensure that this group of six students has had access to water, food, bathrooms, and health services,” said the statement from Brittany Parmley, the district’s director of communications.

“After meeting with them and engaging in a productive dialogue this morning, the district is pleased to see this demonstration come to an end. We hope to see these six students join the nearly 40,000 other Newark public schools students in class on Monday.”

 

Star Ledger - Pension, transportation, school funding shortages push N.J. structural deficit over $7B   “…The estimate represents the gap between the state's revenue and how much it has to pay if it fully funded all state programs, such as public employee pensions and state aid to schools…”

By Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on February 23, 2015 at 8:30 AM, updated February 23, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Trenton – As  recently as his State of the State address last month, in a speech aimed at a national audience, Gov. Chris Christie took credit for wiping out an $11 billion structural deficit after taking office.

"Five years ago we faced massive consecutive budget deficits: $2 billion for fiscal year 2010 and a projected $11 billion the next year on a budget of only $29 billion. We fixed it by making hard choices, the way middle class families in New Jersey have to do it in their homes," Christie said. "Today, we have five balanced budgets in a row. And we will balance a sixth this year. And we didn't do it the Washington way by raising taxes. We did it by cutting spending, shrinking government and fundamentally reforming the way government operates."

But under the same rules for calculating that figure, New Jersey faces a $7.35 billion structural deficit heading into the next budget year, projections from the state's nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services obtained by NJ Advance Media show.

The estimate represents the gap between the state's revenue and how much it has to pay if it fully funded all state programs, such as public employee pensions and state aid to schools.


RELATED: Will Christie offer pension, transportation fixes in coming budget?


Politicians have used the figure to their advantage for years in Trenton.

When an OLS report showed the state faced an $8 billion structural deficit in 2010, then-gubernatorial candidate Christie called on Gov. Jon Corzine to drop his re-election bid in "shame."

When Christie was faced with his first budget, that structural deficit was $10.7 billion. But a few weeks after Christie signed his budget and made the rounds talking it up on national news shows, the OLS said the figure had barely budged: it was $10.5 billion. This time Democrats were the ones making hay.

Christie responded by calling the number "fake." And in his 2011 budget speech, he declared an end to that way of budgeting, saying his administration should not be held to the decisions of governors past.

OLS still produces the report at the request of lawmakers.

"OLS continues to take a hand off the wheel approach to budgeting that is classically representative of the old way of doing things in Trenton, where you pick a wish list number of how many tens of billions you would like to spend and then work backwards from there with the money you actually have," Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said. "This administration builds our budgets from the bottom up, making choices and setting priorities that reflect the needs of the state and the amount of available revenue."

Critics, however, point out that Christie continues to take credit for wiping out the structural deficit in his first year after changing the rules and saying it doesn't exist on his watch.

"When the governor first ran for the position of governor a number of years ago, he spoke of zero-based budgeting. He spoke of reexamining the priorities of the state. He spoke of living within our means," said Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic). "Unfortunately, those steps to not appear to have occurred. The promises that were made to get a significant understanding of the budget and of our debt has unfortunately not taken place over the past five years. More importantly, he's allowed any number of areas critical concern to have been untended."

Christie's proposed budget, which he'll outline in a message before the Legislature on Tuesday, will include strategies for counteracting the deficit. Because the governor spurns tax increases, typically that means shortchanging the annual pension payment and other programs and postponing property tax rebates. State law requires that the budget must be balanced. The fiscal year begins July 1.

"Regardless of what the projections of a budget deficit may be... the governor's budget will have a proposal for reconciling that," said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director at Rutgers' Bloustein Local Government Research Center.

The OLS defines the structural deficit this way: "If the state were to fund all of its statutory obligations and continue all other state programs at the current or normal service level, while relying on revenues solely from existing sources, what is the sum of budget actions that would be required to produce a balanced budget?"

That total, OLS said in a Jan. 14 report, is $7.35 billion. To put that in context, the state's current budget is $32.5 billion.

Fully funding the public worker pension system next year contributes $2.27 billion to the deficit, according to OLS. Fully funding homestead rebates adds $1.84 billion; school aid, $1.65 billion; municipal aid, $935 million; Medicaid and charity care, $355 million; Senior Freeze Program, $44 million; and health benefits, $117 million.

Replacing one-time revenues and maintaining other programs adds roughly $660 million.

The total is offset by $1.2 billion in estimated revenue growth.

OLS Budget and Finance Officer David Rosen notes in the report that that "not only is the structural deficit figure theoretical, it is also dynamic and will no doubt shift with changes in economic conditions and programmatic decisions between now and the time that fiscal year 2016 budget is crafted."

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Samantha Marcus may be reached at smarcus@njadvancemedia.com . Follow her on Twitter @samanthamarcus. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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