EDISON, NJ—The council of New Jersey's 19 community college announced on March 23 that the Common Core Curriculum and PARCC testing would be adopted as a new form of placement testing starting in 2016.
"We believe that higher K-12 standards and aligned student assessments are necessary to help ensure that students arrive at our colleges prepared to meet their academic and career goals," reads a joint statement by the nineteen county college presidents.
New Jersey's county colleges would support and adopt the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum and PARCC assessments of math, reading and writing.
PARCC, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, is New Jersey's newest standardized test. The state hired publishing and testing services company Pearson to implement it.
The tests have been administred to students between grades 3 and 11, and would not be used as a graduation requirement until at least 2019. Teachers unions had raised concerns that performance on the tests might be used as a form of teacher evaluation.
Once 11th grade scores on PARCC testing are released the following fall, the scores would be reviewed by the colleges in combination with performance on other college standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT and Accuplacer.
Students could, like in prior years, be deemed ready for dual-enrollment in county college classes while in senior year, while other students could take bridge courses over the summer to avoid remediation in the fall semester.
"These scores will be a valuable tool for colleges in our work to help high school students avoid remediation and begin study in college-level courses," the New Jersey Council of County Colleges wrote in its statement.
Raymond Yannuzzi, who chairs the New Jersey Community College Presidents, told The Bergen Record earlier this week that the program would make it that fewer incoming first-year students would have to take "boot camp" classes to prepare them for college-level work.
"Community colleges are gonna use these primarily to work with students while they're still in high school, and say 'Okay you're a junior, you took this test, looks like you're ready for college work now,'" Yannuzzi said.
"Or we say: 'You're a junior, you wanna come to us, you wanna take a nursing course, but to be in the nursing courses, you really need to be able to read and write at this level, but here's some things you can do between now and when you graduate high school to get back up to this level.''
The move also came under fire given the controversy over the testing, and the disproportionate number of students from lower-income and urban districts who took the test, while suburban students opted in more frequently.
"The way the tests are designed, they're really going to victimize a large majority of kids who attend schools in those districts, whether they're special needs kids, [or study] English as a second language," New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) presss officer Steve Wollmer told New Brunswick Today.
"In the end, poverty is a major indicator of how well kids do on test scores, so those kids have not been encouraged to opt out by their parents because we know for a fact that their parents are not as well organized, they're not as networked as suburban parents are. That doesn't mean they don't care."
The NJEA also pointed out that the use of PARCC as a form of placement testing would essentially impact lower-income students, many of whom tend to enroll in community colleges before a four-year university out of financial limitations.
"They're gonna get hit hard by these tests, then therefore if their test scores are low, and community colleges are determined to use these tests, which they never were intended to do, for admissions policies, then whose gonna denied access", the NJEA added.
Wollmer said that everything about the test, from its reliance on computers, which are not as prevalent in low-income homes, to the inability of many parents to access test-prep programs, "suggests that lower-income families and their children will be at a disadvantage," said Wollmer.
Yannuzzi refuted the sentiments in a phone call with New Brunswick Today.
"We're not trying to knock the students down, we're just trying to get some measure that helps us to see for kids who are in high school now," Yannuzzi said. "The community colleges are just saying that when these scores come out, we'll use them."
"What we're expecting that they'll be validated over the next few months, and what it'll say is that this score on a PARCC is the equivalent to this on an ACT or SAT, and then we'll say sure, if the person is college ready on SAT, we'll take it to mean college ready on PARCC."
Students and parents in more affluent districts were encouraged and even aided to opt-out of the testing, and as a result, districts such as Liviginston and Princeton saw opt-out rates of nearly 50%.
"There's still going to be millions of students who take this test. So, the fact that some students in some affluent districts opted out, I don't think that that will skew the averages of what the scores were going to be," said Yannuzzi.
Conversely, parents and students in urban districts were discouraged from from opting out, with many families being told that the schools could lose funding if there was participation rate of less than 95%.
As a result, the New Brunswick School District saw only 19 of its students opt out.
An anonymous source told New Brunswick Today that the majority of the opt-outs in New Brunswick were in the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, and that the opt-outs were the efforts of parents, rather than the aid or encouragement of administrators.
Woodrow Wilson Elementary School currently sits in the tucked away, affluent neighborhoods of Rutgers Village and Edgebrooke.
Home to New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill and other city leadership, Rutgers Village is cut off from the rest of New Brunswick, surrounded by Route 18, Route 1, the Raritan River and the New Jersey Turnpike.
A4165, a bill that unanimously passed by the NJ State Assembly would set up a statewide process, making it easier for students and parents to opt-out of PARCC testing. Presently, the opt-out process is left to the discretion of each school distrct.
Parents would have 14 days to submit a test refusal in writing to the school district. From there, it would be the responsibility of the school district to provide "educationally appropriate alternative activities" in another room.
Although the bill passed a 72-0 in the Assembly, its Senate counterpart has not yet moved out of committee.
Beyond that, it would require the signature from a Governor who has been increasingly supportive of PARCC and other forms of online testing.
"The fact is, both the SATs and the ACTs will be computer-based in the next two years," Christie said a March 4 town hall in Fair Lawn, cautioning parents not to opt out.
"When the results come back, I may have grave concerns about PARCC," Christie said, emphasizing that it was the first year the test was being given. "I'm not yet concerned, but I am aware. Let's wait for the statistics to come in."