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10-26-14 Education Issues in the New

Star Ledger Editorial - Take-home lessons from the PARCC | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board 
on October 25, 2015 at 6:03 PM, updated October 25, 2015 at 6:04 PM

And that raises a core question for opponents of this test, and all those who boycotted it: Would New Jersey somehow be better off not knowing these facts? To ask that question is to answer it. The notion is absurd.New Jersey's poor performance on the PARCC test should come as a wake up call. Less than half the kids in our state are on the college track, it seems. Most don't even know enough to move to the next grade level.

The PARCC test, unlike earlier standardized tests, is designed to help teachers and principals identify exactly where kids are learning, and where they are struggling. That can help educators tailor their lessons to be more effective.


It also allows states to compare their performance to other states, with an apples to apples measure. Under the current system, each state offers its own tests. That allows them to claim success when their only real accomplishment is to lower the bar to artificially boost scrores. That's known as the "honesty gap" which many educators, and leaders like former Gov. Tom Kean, have decried.

Perhaps most important, these tests could be an important tool in the fight to close the achievement gap between black and white students, which stubbornly persists in New Jersey -- not just between cities and suburbs, but within racially mixed, suburban towns like Montclair. How can we fix that problem if we can't measure it?

Those who boycotted this test undermined those efforts. Yes, the resistance to testing is understandable, and many educators agree that the load has grown too large. But creative districts are finding ways to cope with that, like eliminating some of their own tests in favor of the PARCC exams, which offers this more authoritative evaluation.

And remember: Those who boycott the tests are affecting more than their own children. They are sabotaging the data for all children in New Jersey.

Resistance to PARCC also comes from the teachers unions, who tend to oppose any measure that can result in bad teachers losing their jobs, or even their scheduled path raises. 

But the rest of the world embraces national tests like this. We want our kids to be able to compete with those in India, China, Germany or Korea. To do that, we have to raise the bar. We need real benchmarks. 

The opt-out crowd knee-caps all of this. It's a protest that especially hurts poor kids, where much of the failure is occurring. We hope that next time, parents will think of them.

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President’s statement offers suggestions, not mandates – and state’s new PARCC tests already take less time than proposed

President Barack Obama took to the Internet on Saturday to announce a nationwide “testing action plan” that would encourage new limits on standardized testing and promote more meaningful and less burdensome assessments of educational achievement.

But from New Jersey’s standpoint, the president’s unusual decree on what he called over-testing may end up generating more political buzz than anything concrete that might happen in the state’s schools.

For example, Obama’s three-minute video posted on Facebook called for limiting state testing to no more than 2 percent of instructional time, the equivalent of a three or four days out of the school year.






Just doing the straight math, New Jersey will likely fall well within that parameter -- maybe with room to spare.

Next spring, a shortened version of the PARCC testing in math and language arts will take as much as about nine and a half hours to administer, with the exact figure varying with the grade. That would keep the time spent on testing to about 1 percent of the instructional year.

But such measures can be tricky and the impact of the president’s announcement may become murky.

For example, the testing time suggested by Obama doesn’t factor in preparation for testing or the other assessments given throughout the year, ranging from commercial tests that check on students’ progress to individual schools’ midterm and final exams.

In New Jersey, for instance, an extra science test in certain grades adds another four hours of testing.

A study released this weekend by the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of more than 70 urban districts nationwide, found that average total testing exceeds 20 hours a year when counting other standardized exams.

A state task force appointed by Gov. Chris Christie was charged with looking at the amount of testing that takes place in New Jersey public schools, with an eye on trying to eliminate duplication of local and state testing.

The task force was announced by Christie in the face of increasing opposition in the Legislature to the scope of state testing and plans for how the new tests will be used to judge students, schools and teachers.

At the same time, the administration also extended limits on the use of the test results in evaluating teachers for at least another year. Test results can account for no more than 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation this year.

In its interim report last winter, the task force called on all school districts and schools to take an inventory of all of their testing.

But the task force, which was supposed to complete its work this past summer, has yet to release its final report, and state Education Commissioner David Hespe, the task force’s chairman, has been quiet about the results.

In the end, the president calls for limiting testing may end up being not much more than an academic exercise. His videotaped statement on Saturday did not suggest that he would be taking executive action but was instead laying out broad principles to guide future federal policy.

Obama did point to some ways the federal government might encourage testing limits, citing some grant and other regulatory opportunities that encourage more efficient assessments. His announcement cited a dozen states that have already taken such steps -- New Jersey not among them.

There is a certain irony to the moves, since the Obama administration played a big part in spawning the heavier emphasis on testing through its Race to the Top grant competition and its emphasis on accountability.

That made the timing of the president’s statement even more interesting, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the chief architect of the Race to the Top plan, announced a few weeks ago that he would step down from the position in December.

In addition, Congress has been stalemated in efforts to reach agreement on the new federal education law, and Obama’s outreach was seen as some as a step to appease testing critics and jumpstart that process anew.

Star Ledger - PARCC scores will help N.J. close 'honesty gap' in education | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist 
Follow on Twitter 
on October 26, 2015 at 8:00 AM, updated October 26, 2015 at 8:05 AM
By Tom Kean

Now that the statewide PARCC results have been released, we need to get to work and use these new scores as a tool to improve the education of our children. New Jersey is a leader in education, which is why it is imperative that we seize this moment to learn from the new test scores, make improvements and set an example for the rest of the country.

The new statewide results present a more honest and accurate indication of how well our students are prepared for college and their careers. I would have liked to have had access to this more accurate measuring stick when I served as governor. Furthermore, in coming weeks, districts, schools, teachers, parents and students will have access to more detailed score reports, which will be powerful tools that every educator and parent can use across the state to help students do even better.

The PARCC scores provide a new and much-needed benchmark, one that more closely aligns with the higher quality education standards we have set and measures skills like critical thinking, persuasive writing and problem-solving. This new benchmark will give us more honest and accurate assessments of how well students comprehend and are able to apply these skills. And if we are being really honest, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has been telling us we've needed a better measure for years.

A few months ago, an independent education organization, Achieve, released a report that looked at student proficiency rates on state tests and compared those rates to NAEP proficiency data. NAEP — the "Nation's Report Card" — is considered the gold standard in student assessment and provides a common measurement across states.

The Achieve report specifically looked at fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, because these are strong indicators of later academic success for students. The study found that states are reporting proficiency rates significantly higher than what NAEP is showing, actively contributing to an "honesty gap." In fact, for the 2013-14 school year, New Jersey showed an 18-point difference between state-reported proficiency scores and NAEP scores in fourth-grade reading, and a 23-point difference in eighth-grade math.

This means that our state assessment, the NJ ASK, was telling us that 60 percent of fourth-graders were hitting grade-level benchmarks in reading but, truth be told, only 42 percent were. In eighth-grade math, NJ ASK said more than 70 percent of our students reached proficiency, but NAEP revealed that the actual rate was 49 percent. This honesty gap has contributed to an over-inflated sense of college- and career-readiness in our state. Other states have also inflated their results to make it seem that their students are doing better. The good news is that New Jersey is working to correct our problems.

In 2010, New Jersey adopted rigorous academic standards aligned to the skills students need to be successful in college and careers. We then pursued an accurate, aligned assessment that gives us the most truthful measure of those skills, and PARCC gets us there. It is unacceptable that about 40 percent of students attending New Jersey public colleges and universities need remediation, and approximately 70 percent of entering freshmen at New Jersey community colleges do, as well. We must start earlier and ensure that students are truly prepared.

The PARCC exam is a more honest reflection of how our students are doing. It's also a powerful tool for parents and teachers to assess a child's performance and to identify learning gaps.

For the first time, state assessment score reports provide performance data on specific skill sets so we can see where our students are excelling or where they need additional support. Parents will be able to understand their child's strengths and weaknesses and can work to provide additional support at home. Parents can also work with their children's teachers to develop a plan to address areas in need of improvement. Districts and schools will be able to drive more effective instruction, offer more specific support and provide informed enrichment activities. As a teacher in my early years, I wish I had had this valuable tool to guide instruction for my own students.

We in New Jersey must continue to be a leader in education and stay ahead of the curve to ensure our children succeed in college and beyond. To fulfill that promise, we must hold our students to the highest standards and be honest and accurate about how they are doing. As we examine the PARCC results, we can begin to close the honesty gap and give students, parents and teachers the tools they need to prepare students so there are no surprises when they reach college or work.

Tom Kean was governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. He has also served as chairman of the 9/11 Commission and president of Drew University. Gov. Kean is currently the co-chair of the board of JerseyCAN: The New Jersey Campaign for Achievement Now. He began his career as a teacher.

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