|3-12-15 Senate Education Committee HearsToday From Educaation Commissioner Hespe On PARCC|
Courier Post - New Jersey education commissioner: Don't skip new test
GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press 3:15 p.m. EDT March 12, 2015
TRENTON – New Jersey's top education official is warning that school districts could lose some federal funding if too many students skip a new standardized test that is being given this month.
Education Commissioner David Hespe appeared Thursday before the state Senate's education committee to defend the PARCC exams that some parent and educator groups vigorously oppose.
Hespe said critics of the test are judging it too quickly. There could be some hiccups in its administration, he said, but the tests will generate reports that will zero in on exactly how students are doing.
"The success is going to be when parents see those reports and teachers see the reports," Hespe told the panel. "That's going to be the aha moment when they say, 'Yes, this really does provide me with the information about my child's performance that I need.'"
There has been a push to boycott the exams, which were developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and are being given this year in New Jersey and a dozen other states. Opponents of the test question its appropriateness, cost and the consequences of relying so heavily on its results to judge teachers and students.
The tests are being administered to students in third through 11th grades this month and again in May.
Hespe said the state does not have data now on how many students are skipping it.
Using open-records laws, an activist received a record showing that more than 2,000 students in the well-off Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill were refusing to take the tests. While most of the younger students are taking it, nearly three-fourths of 11th graders are skipping it.
The problem, Hespe said, is a federal law implemented more than a decade ago that requires 95 percent of students at each school and in each subgroup — including students with disabilities, low-income students and students in various racial groups — to take tests.
The law, designed to make sure schools were not keeping low-performing students from taking the tests in an effort to boost overall scores, says the federal government can withhold funding from districts that fail to meet the standard.
Hespe shared a letter the U.S. Department of Education sent him last month spelling out that possibility.
Still, some activists said they had doubts about whether money would be withheld if students refuse to take the tests. Julia Sass Rubin, a member of Save Our Schools New Jersey, a group that opposes the PARCC, noted that funding has never been withheld before under similar circumstances.
At the hearing, Hespe also said that the state has not calculated how much school districts have spent to buy computers to administer the exams, which are given online.
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Star Ledger - State should have better handled PARCC rollout, N.J. Senate committee says
TRENTON — State senators said they still have questions about New Jersey's new standardized tests, and they know who they want to provide the answers.
The state Senate Education Committee today implored the state Department of Education to better communicate information about the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.
The Senate Education Committee called Education Commissioner David Hespe to testify before the panel Thursday in an attempt to get answers to questions senators are hearing from parents and teachers, said Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), the committee chair.
But Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) said the testimony to the Education Committee on Thursday was already "a day late and a dollar short." Widespread PARCC testing in New Jersey began amid controversy earlier this month.
"Nobody explained (PARCC) to me other than parents and hearing from administrators, teachers and some of the students who feel that they are being put through a meat grinder by taking this test," Turner said.
Hespe said the department has tried to get information to the community but it doesn't have the budget to compete with expensive ad campaigns against PARCC — the New Jersey Education Association launched a six-week campaign in February. There's also too much misinformation swirling about the new tests, Hespe said.
"It's very difficult to get information out in the face of tremendous amounts of misinformation," he said.
Some parents feel the tests are unnecessarily confusing and test preparation has stolen away too much instructional time. Others criticize PARCC because data from a new exam will be used in teacher evaluations. Some parents said they are concerned because they fear their children's data will be turned over to Pearson, the company that provides the online testing platform.
The state needs to address the concerns about PARCC before next school year, Sen. James Beach (D-Camden) said.
"Whatever we need to do to make sure that we are not sitting here next year talking about the same things, I would strongly suggest that we do everything possible to educate parents and make sure the teachers that you have to have on board are on board," Beach said.
During about two hours of testimony, Hespe and Assistant Education Commissioner Bari Erlichson answered some of those questions, explaining that student data cannot be sold to third parties and that the data used for teacher evaluations counts for just 10 percent of a teacher's overall score.
Erlichson also countered what she said is one of the biggest misconceptions about PARCC, the belief that schools aren't hurt by students not taking the tests.
She specifically cited Algebra II, which will have an end of course state exam for the first time, and said students who skip the math exam will prevent their teachers from getting data on their performance.
"Algebra II is a linchpin, and by the high schools not participating in it those students are depriving those schools of the opportunity to do better," she said.
Erlichson maintained the the state's position that schools could face sanctions, including financial penalties, if 95 percent of students don't take the tests. She provided the committee with a letter from the U.S. Department of Education explaining the federal 95 percent rule.
But Save Our Schools NJ, a parent group that supports the opt-out movement, again disagreed. The group doesn't dispute that the rule exists but says there's no evidence of schools losing funding over it even when schools fell below the 95 percent rate, member Julia Sass Rubin said after the hearing.
Rubin called the testimony a "show of political theater."
"It's very important to hear from the administration, but to hear only from the administration is rather stunning," she said.
Ruiz said she meets regularly with community groups and those with concerns about PARCC may have opportunities in the future to address the committee.
She said she'll use the testimony to help set the committee's legislative agenda, including whether to act on a series of standardized testing bills already passed by the state Assembly.
Garden State Coalition of Schools