Under Pressure From Critics, PARCC Agrees to Cut Down on Testing in 2016

TRENTON, NJ—The multi-state PARCC (Partnership for Asessment of Readiness for College and Careers) consortium that oversees that administration of its online standardized testing across the United States announced that it would be rolling back the number of tests administered during the academic year from two to one. 

The decision comes amid the second roll-out of the controversial test in New Jersey's public schools, as well as a slew of bills and resolutions in the NJ Legislature meant to curb the reach of PARCC testing in the state. 

In 2016, PARCC would be administered sometime in the spring, as opposed to in both March and May.  Testing time during the single testing period would also be reduced by 90 minutes.

While in 2015, schools were alloted 10-11 hours in which students in grades 3 through 11 could complete the test.  Next year, it will only take 6.5 to 7.5 hours for the tests to be completed. 

Education officials said the changes were in response to concerns raised by parents and educators. 

"The vote came in response to school district and teacher feedback during the first year of testing and a careful review of the test design," the PARCC consortium, which oversees the administration of its online testing in 11 states, said in a press release. 

The decision was made by the PARCC's governing board on Wednesday, May 21. 

“This decision reflects our commitment to continue to be responsive to parents and educators, while ensuring that PARCC delivers on its intended purpose of providing schools with information designed to improve student learning and give each parent meaningful feedback on how their child is progressing,” NJ Education Commissioner David Hespe said in a statement.

The changes would affect 10 other states that currently use PARCC's online testing. Educators, administrators and parents across the state praised the decision. PARCC announced that 5 million students in those 11 states participated in the standardized testing during its roll-outs this spring. 

Patricia Wright, Executive Director of of the NJ Principals ande Supervisors Association, told NJ Spotlight that the move would make a big difference, while the New Jersey Education Association, one of the most vocal critics of the PARCC testing, maintained that the changes did not go far enough. 

"The testing is now somewhat shorter than the state bar exam, but it still disrupts a good part of the year to test preparation and administration,” NJEA spokesperson Steve Baker told NJ Spotlight. 

Having been deeply involved in a multi-million dollar lobbying effort against PARCC testing, the NJEA spokesperson continued that the exams aren't ready to be used as a means of evaluation for teachers.

Notably absent from the decision was any mention of whether the state and federal government could enforce a minimum participation rate that school districts would need to maintain in order to receive state and federal aid. 

Parents opposed to the testing organized for opt-outs of the test across the state.  Roughly 15% of the New Jersey's grade 11 students opted out of the exam, although passing the test is currently a requirement for high school graduation.  

The school districts in Livingston, NJ, saw nearly half its students opt out of the PARCC tests while Montclair saw over 40% of its students opt out, compared to New Brunswick which had just 19 students opt out during the first round.

The number of students that opted out of the second round of PARCC testing earlier in May was not immediately available.

Education Commissioner David Hespe had warned school districts having a participation rate of less than 95% in PARCC testing could result in tax increases due to the loss of federal and state funding in those districts. 

"We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure that we have comfort level moving forward that we are going to hit that 95%," Hespe said at an Assembly Budget Commitee hearing in April. 

Hespe has stated that he would support regulations such as requiring parents to meet face-to-face with teachers should their child want to opt out of the testing. 

Mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, public schools must have a 95% participation rate in annual state tests to qualify for federal Title I funding.

U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in April that the federal government is obligated to step in with school districts that fail to meet that 95% mark.

A spokesperson for the for the U.S Department of Education told the New York-based education thinktank Chalkbeat that the federal government has so far not stepped in because state governments have handled issues on the participation rate on their own. 

Still, PARCC test opponents like the NJEA, have pointed out that there have been times before in which New Jersey school districts had participation rates below 95%. 

“Threats and intimidation are utterly inappropriate,” NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement.  “The department needs to listen to parents, not threaten their children’s schools. It should stop attacking parents with their own tax dollars.”

“School funding is appropriated by the Legislature to support public education. It is not intended as a tool for the Commissioner of Education to enforce compliance with a failing policy that parents are rejecting in droves.”