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3-2-15 PARRC Testing Begins in Full FOr NJ Schools Today

The Record  - Testing day for NJ students; number who opt out small compared with those taking test

March 1, 2015, 9:26 PM    Last updated: Monday, March 2, 2015, 9:07 AM

By HANNAN ADELY

Staff Writer |

In the Ridgewood school district, more than 100 students have refused to take new state tests. In Tenafly, about 20 have said no. In Bergenfield, at least four students won’t sit for the exams that start in most districts today.

Teachers and parents opposed to the tests have been urging a boycott for months, but superintendents are only now beginning to see how many students won’t take part. Conversations over the last few days with school administrators throughout Bergen and Passaic counties reveal that the number of students refusing to participate is small, compared with those who will be testing.

Disenchantment over the tests stems from fears over how difficult the exams will be for the students who have to take them — those in Grades 3 to 11. Critics worry that the tests in math and language arts will cut into instruction time, and school officials grouse about the expense of computer upgrades needed to give the tests electronically.

With days left before testing, superintendents said they were hearing more from worried parents, including some who were undecided about whether to let their children participate.

Fort Lee Superintendent Paul Saxton said 30 to 40 parents attended a board meeting Tuesday night to express their concerns about the tests, which he said are“ putting everyone in a chaotic state.” By Thursday, 10 people had submitted refusal letters, Saxton said.

But test refusals are a much bigger deal in some districts than others. It’s more popular in places like Ridgewood and Wayne, where parents have organized around the issue. But there is hardly anyone not taking the test in Mahwah, said that district’s superintendent.

In some large districts, such as Hackensack and Paterson, the test refusals have been but a blip. A Paterson spokeswoman said there “could be less than a dozen” and “certainly less than 20.”

Many parents said they have let schools know ahead of time that they’ll refuse the test, but it’s unclear whether additional students will opt out at the last minute.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe has warned that New Jersey could lose funding if it falls below the 95 percent participation rate mandated by federal law, although he has also said penalties are not automatic and would actually be unlikely.

Nevertheless, to keep the number of parents pulling students out of the tests to a minimum, state education officials have stepped up efforts to tout the tests’ merits with an online campaign, opinion columns and reminders that federal law requires 95 percent participation. State officials have also asked school administrators to get the message out about the tests’ benefits.

With 900,000 public school students in Grades 3 to 11, about 45,000 would have to opt out for the state to fall below 95 percent. Based on the The Record’s sampling, the percentage of students opting out in Bergen or Passaic counties does not appear to approach 5 percent.

The tests will not be used to judge students until 2019 when they become a graduation requirement for 11th-graders. The tests will, however, be a factor in evaluating teachers and schools, prompting an anti-test advertising blitz by the state’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association.

Anti-test activism has led state legislators to introduce bills to limit the impact the exams can have on students and prompted more than 150 school districts to draft policies about how they’ll handle the dissenters. The policies range from allowing students to read a book in the test room to forcing non-testers to remain with their classmates while everyone else tests.

“In some districts more than others, it is a big concern,” said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, which is supporting the tests. “Districts are holding information evenings and having one-on-one discussions with parents about their concerns.”

The We Raise NJ coalition, which includes the principals and supervisors association, launched an online campaign last Monday called Best Foot Forward to advocate for the test. The group embraces some of the same social-media tactics that education activists have used to build momentum for the test boycott. It includes a website, a YouTube video, texts and a blog with information about upcoming tests.

Hespe said the main concern about too many students refusing to take the tests is that schools wouldn’t get reliable data on how they are performing.

“All that information becomes skewed when the numbers get below a certain level,” he  said.

The new tests, known as the PARCC — named for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the group of states that developed them — will provide detailed information on student learning down to the question level. Hespe said parents should be demanding these tests because they raise the level of rigor and learning in schools.

But parents say the new tests are a drain on classroom time and resources. Letters refusing the test are few in number in most districts but are starting to come in more frequently.

Whatever happens today, activists say they believe their numbers will continue to grow even after the first round of testing this month. The tests are given during two 20-day windows in March and May and could take up to 10 hours over several testing sessions to complete. Critics have decried the length of the tests.

“Many parents are just joining the conversation and spending time learning what this is about,” said Jean McTavish, a coordinator for Opt Out of State Standardized Tests — New Jersey.

“Parents will be able to observe how their children respond to the new tests. Then, I think that once the scores come back next year, there will be even more opt-outs,” she said.

Wright, of the principals and supervisors association, said it could go the other way, with more parents choosing to allow students to test once they see what the exams are like and learn more about how they can help students.

“As we look deeper into this and get the results back, maybe next year there will be a calmer approach,” Wright said.

Email: adely@northjersey.com

 

NJ Spotlight - PARCC Tests in Language Arts, Math Start Today for Students in New Jersey…Can you make the grade? Try a sample question from the 5th-grade language arts exam

John Mooney | March 2, 2015

 

The PARCC tests start in earnest today across New Jersey, with students in grades 3-11 taking online exams testing their critical thinking and performance skills in language arts and math.

Each day for the next week, NJ Spotlight will be posting one question or set of questions verbatim from the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) practice tests, allowing readers to get a taste of what’s being asked and what’s being assessed.

We start with a 5th-grade language arts question that, like many of them, focuses on a student’s comprehension of a provided reading passage.

We will post the correct answers the next day. In the meantime, readers are invited to comment on the question and the possible answers.

Today you will analyze a passage from the novel “Ida B” and a passage from the novel “Moon Over Manifest.” As you read these texts, you will gather information and answer questions about the influence of the narrator’s point of view so you can write an essay.

Read the passage from the novel titled “Ida B.” Then answer the questions from “Ida B”, by Katherine Hannigan

1 Saturday morning, I was sitting on the front porch, waiting for nothing, with nothing I wanted to do. Rufus sat beside me for a while, hoping I’d be up to something more than misery. But he got tired of waiting and went off on his own, leaving a small sea of spit where he’d been sitting.

2 Just as I was about to take myself back to bed and try starting the day over again in the afternoon, I saw the big white car come down the road and turn left at the T. And right away, I knew what I had to do.

3 No plans. No least-possible-pain-and-humiliation scheming. Just plain and straight do the deed.

4 As soon as the white car disappeared down the DeLunas’ drive, I picked myself up and headed out through the fields, then around the base of the mountain.

5 I walked through the orchard, eyes fixed forward, not slow and not rushed, either. Like I was on my way to the final showdown. Yes, there was a bunch of them and only one of me. Yes, they might ambush me, and I might not come back in one piece. But I’d take whatever those people needed to dish out, because I was going to do the right thing.

6 I just stopped before I stepped onto the land that now belonged to the DeLunas, and took a deep breath as I walked over that invisible boundary line.

7 And there was Claire straight ahead, looking at me, waiting for me. Her mom and little brother were crouched down at the side of the house, planting little bushes.

8 Clump . . . clump . . . clump . . . was the only sound my feet were making this time as I walked toward Claire, arms out from my sides and palms up, letting her know that I wasn’t coming for a fight, even if she had some trouble and torture she needed to visit on me.

9 Claire’s mother spotted me and stood, dusted off her hands, and watched as I walked up to Claire. Then all of the world was still except for the two of us.

10 “Claire,” I said, making myself look her in the eye, “I’m sorry I scared you in the woods. I’m sorry I was mean to you. I was following you in school so I could apologize. I . . . I . . .” And there I was, babbling again. Should I tell her about Mama and the trees and school and everything? Where would I start if I was going to explain it all?

11 Then Ms. W. came into my head and I knew it didn’t really matter.

12 “I’m just sorry,” I said.

13 Sometimes, on spring days, there will be the brightest, warmest sun and the darkest, rainiest clouds sharing the sky. All day long you wonder, “Will it rain? Will it shine?” And that’s what I was thinking then, while I was looking at Claire’s face. Everything was there, but nothing was happening one way or the other. I couldn’t hang around any longer to see what would win out, though, because I had something else to do.

14 I turned to Claire’s little brother, who had his arm around his mama’s leg, and I could see that he was scared of me. He thought I was a monster, just like I’d wanted him to.

15 “I’m sorry I scared you,” I said. “I won’t ever do it again. I promise.”

16 And he just stared at me, too. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that this family’s mouths were under repair.

17 It was too hard waiting there for those people to decide if they wanted to tell me something, and I wasn’t quite sure I could stand to hear the words they might want to say anyway. So I turned back to the orchard and started home.

18 I braced myself for a DeLuna ambush from behind and decided that when Mama and Daddy found me, just holding on to a tiny sliver of life, my last words would be, “Turn the land into a park, teach Rufus some mouth-related manners, and make sure Lulu gets her treats. Please.”

19 But I got to the property line without harm or hollering, and by the time I crossed it, I did feel better. Like my heart was heavier and lighter at the same time.

20 Apologizing is like spring-cleaning. First of all, you don’t want to do it. But there’s something inside you, or somebody outside you who’s standing there with her hands on her hips saying, “It’s time to make things right around here,” and there’s no getting out of it.

21 Once you get started, though, you find out that you can’t just clean out one room and be done with it; you have to do the whole house or you’re tracking dirt from one place to the other. Well, it starts to seem like too, too much, and you want to quit more than Christmas. But there’s that somebody or something telling you again, “Keep going. You’re almost done. No quitting allowed.”

(Passage from “Ida B.” by Katherine Hannigan, text copyright © 2004 by Katherine Hannigan. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.)

Part A

Read the sentence from paragraph 1.

“Rufus sat beside me for a while, hoping I'd be up to something more than misery.”

What does the word misery mean as it is used in the sentence?

1) confusion 2) exhaustion 3) nervousness 4) unhappiness

Part B

Which detail from the story provides the best clue for the meaning of the word misery?

1) “… waiting for nothing, with nothing I wanted to do.” 2) “… tired of waiting, and went off on his own …” 3) “And right away, I knew what I had to do.” 4) “No plans.”

PART C

How does the narrator’s apology to the neighbors contribute to the theme of the story?

1) It shows the feelings of guilt will pass. 2) It shows that it is best to admit mistakes. 3) It shows that it is difficult to understand how other people are feeling. 4) It shows that it requires bravery to approach others who are angry.

PART D

Which detail from the story best supports the answer to Part C

  1. "Yes, they might ambush me …” 2) "… because I was going to do the right thing.” 3) “ … I got to the property line without harm …” 4) “Like my heart was heavier and lighter …”

 

 

Star Ledger - PARCC: Time to log on, are schools computer ready?
-  By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
Email the author or | Follow on Twitteron March 01, 2015 at 8:15 AM, updated March 01, 2015 at 10:00 AM

The majority of New Jersey schools will begin state testing on Monday, but students won't have to worry about sharpening their No. 2 pencils.

The days of filling in bubbles are gone, replaced by new computerized tests, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. About 900,000 students in grades 3-11 will take the math and English tests on computers, logging on to click, drag, and type their answers, according to the state Department of Education.

The new tests are billed as more interactive and engaging than the pencil and paper tests, but the switch to computers has also generated concern. At meetings about PARCC throughout the state, parents and teachers have questions about whether schools are properly equipped to handle the demands of the new tests and whether schools will be able to deal with computer crashes or any technology glitch.

"Parents are concerned because they might know that their district doesn't have all the latest, greatest technology," said Michael Kaminski, who attended Take The PARCC nights across the state as president of the Delran Education Association.

In anticipation of PARCC, districts across the state have invested heavily in technology upgrades and training over the past few years, in part to try to avoid tech problems on testing days

Newark Public School made significant upgrades to both its facilities and equipment. The district spent about $5 million on new laptops for the 2014-15 school year and has spent more $9 million on technology infrastructure upgrades over the last three years, spokeswoman Brittany Parmley said. The district's Internet service capacity is now 10 times higher than it was prior to PARCC, she said.

At Livingston Public Schools, the technology department conducted readiness tests and surveys to determines the strengths and weaknesses of its network infrastructure and bandwidth. The district spend $1.5 million on technology before the start of the school year, though not all of the money was directly related to PARCC, the district said.

Elizabeth Public Schools purchased nearly 16,000 laptop computers and upgraded its wireless Internet service, assistant board secretary Don Goncalves said. The district also hired technology coaches to support teachers and created internal tech teams within each school.

School officials are still concerned about the district's wireless networks going down, the maintenance of its laptops and potential problems with the test itself, Goncalves said. But Elizabeth thinks it ready to deal with most problems, he said.

"From a district perspective, we have built in the system necessary to help mitigate most issues that can be addressed internally," Goncalves said.

Early indications are that schools should expect problems. Several schools that started testing during an early window that began Feb. 20 experienced difficulties

A glitch with the PARCC tests' "start button" led Dumont High School to postpone testing that was scheduled that morning. And some students at Bayonne High School had trouble logging out of the test, causing extra stress for teachers, said Dennis Degnan, thedistrict's administrator of assessment.

At Middlesex High School, teachers have needed to replace laptops that froze during testing and manually track how much time students' lost, Superintendent Linda Madison said. Those students were allowed to make up that time, and the test program saved their work at the point they had stopped, she said.

"When they logged back on, they went right back to where they are supposed to be," Madison said.

Schools should expect some technology problems, just as issues arose with paper and pencil tests, Education Commissioner David Hespe said.

In the past, schools sometimes didn't have enough test booklets for a classroom or a student's test booklet got lost between testing days, he said. Those problems were always dealt with, and PARCC should be no different, he said.

"We're comfortable that even as we go into a totally different computer form, problems will arise, perhaps many problems will arise, but they will be worked through," Hepse said.

Most of the technology problems reported so far are the kind that can be handled by districts, PARCC spokesperson David Connerty-Marin said.

With students in Ohio and New Jersey testing over the past week, many of the calls for tech help were related to passwords, Internet connection or pop-up or firewall settings, Marin said.

"A very high percentage of the calls that come in are a very quick and easy fix," Marin said.

However, there have also been problems with the tests, he said, such as the glitch that caused Dumot to delay testing. Another glitch prevented some students from being able to answer the final question on a math test, but that has since been fixed, he said.

Also, PARCC's screen reader version for students who are blind or visually impaired had to be delayed a week because of problems, Marin said.

Pearson, the company which provides the testing platform, has a call center staffed by a subcontractor, Marin said. Calls that cannot be quickly resolved are transferred to a "level two" call center, he said.

With students in six different states taking PARCC tests this week, the call center will be highly staffed, Marin said.

Students who experience a problem with technology will not be penalized, he said.

"None of this stuff is 100 percent fool proof so there are always some issues and there are protocols for pretty much every situation," Marin said. "Yes, in the situation where something happens there are contingency plans and make-up plans."

Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClark. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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