PARCC: 6 things parents should know

Asbury Park Press- Likely starting next week, New Jersey school districts will begin receiving students' scores on the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Odds are, students are in for some disappointment.

High school students' scores on the state's newest standardized test will be the first sent to districts. Results for students in grades 3 through 8 will be sent later this month, said David Saenz, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Education.

Depending on how fast districts send out those scores, parents could begin seeing results shortly thereafter.

The scores will likely come as a shock, as less than half of New Jersey students who took the test met the state's academic standards for proficiency.

Here are six things parents should know about the PARCC:

1) Many students will see significantly lower test scores, but that doesn't mean they were slacking off.

Scores for students in every grade were lower than on previous standardized tests and, in some cases, are down by more than 40 percentage points.

While 80 percent of high school students tested proficient on the High School Proficiency Assessment, or HSPA, in 2014, only 36 percent of students who took the PARCC Algebra I test met or exceeded state standards, according to the Department of Education.

Though 76 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or excelled on the state's previous standardized math test in 2014, only 41 percent of fourth-graders who took the PARCC math test met or exceeded the standards.

“It’s a new baseline. It can’t be compared to the previous exam," Saenz said.

2) Change lowers scores, at least initially. 

The PARCC is a fresh test that asks students to explain their answers and show work. It is also the first to be primarily taken on computers in New Jersey public schools.

In New Jersey, 99 percent of students who took the PARCC used a computer, according to Department of Education officials, who anticipated that the new format would lower performance during the initial administration. They expect familiarity and practice will lead to score improvements on the 2016 tests.

3) PARCC is a harder test with stricter definitions of success.

New Jersey's previous standardized tests – the HSPA and the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge, or NJ ASK – have been criticized by state officials, educational leaders and college presidents for setting low standards for success.

New Jersey adopted new, more rigorous academic benchmarks in 2010, known as theCommon Core State Standards, but the HSPA and NJ ASK were not in sync.

PARCC, which is aligned to the Common Core, "is a more accurate and honest assessment of the standards that should be taught in the classroom," said Saenz, of the Department of Education.

The information is designed to help schools adjust classroom instruction and parents seek the right academic assistance for their children. New Jersey's Regional Achievement Centers will also offer training and curriculum assistance to the neediest school districts, Saenz said.

State officials, college presidents and local business leaders hope the changes in New Jersey schools will better prepare students for jobs and college.

Between 20 percent and 30 percent of first-year college students across the nation take remedial classes, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The PARCC may reflect an honest reckoning with that reality.

Business leaders say they are seeing a similar skills deficit. About 73 percent of entry-level workers have poor written communication skills, according to a survey by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

Those problems are costing graduates jobs, delay college graduation, and raise student debt, according to experts.

4) Does my kid need to pass to graduate?

Through 2019, achieving a certain score on the PARCC will be one way for New Jersey students to graduate high school.

For the PARCC to count toward graduation, students must score 750 or higher on the grade 9 or grade 10 English Language Arts portion, or 725 points or higher on the 11th grade English Language Arts Portion. In addition, students must score 750 or higher on the Algebra I portion, or 725 or higher on the Geometry or Algebra II portions.

However, students don't have to take the PARCC to graduate. Instead, they can try and reach a certain cut score on the SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, PSAT or ASVAB-AFQT to graduate. Graduation requirements will be updated in the coming months with the redesign of the PSAT and SAT, according to the Department of Education.

Students who are poor test takers can also appeal to receive their diploma based on a Department of Education portfolio review, if they meet certain requirements. Students with special needs who have Individualized Education Plans will continue to follow the graduation requirements described in the plans.

These requirements have parents like Leigh Ann Lardiere of Toms River worried. Lardiere's sophomore daughter, who took the PARCC last spring, waits nervously for her scores to arrive in the mail.

"We live day to day waiting for these PARCC results," said 42-year-old Lardiere, who let her daughter choose whether or not to take the two-week test.

Many teachers are also awaiting the results. PARCC scores will eventually be figured into personnel reviews for a proportion of the state's teacher workforce.

5) Schools will help decipher the scores.

When the results are finally sent home, schools at the Jersey Shore plan to help parents make sense of the new scores.

Brick schools will hold information sessions for parents to explain how the scores work and what they mean, Brick's interim Superintendent Richard Caldes said.

In Barnegat, school officials will send an electronic notification to parents before they receive their children' scores so that they know how to read the sheets, Superintendent Karen Wood said in an email. Principals and teachers will also receive training on how to read the results so they can help parents, she said.

Wood also said there would be no negative repercussions for Barnegat students who did poorly.

"The State has indicated that we cannot use these scores for any purposes... With all the work and all the angst everyone went through last year, the scores don't count," said Wood. That fact "is a bit frustrating but as an educator, I'd rather the test be an accurate assessment of student progress before it is used to determine anything for our students."

6) PARCC still has strong critics.

Chris Tienken, a professor of educational administrator at Seton Hall University, does not believe that PARCC and related curriculum shifts will be enough to fulfill the mission of substantially raising performance in American schools. He was not surprised when a recent release of PARCC scores showed significant achievement gaps along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

"Rigid curriculum standards have no history of closing achievement gaps in the USA or abroad," Tienken said in an email. "The research is clear: achievement gaps disappear when poverty decreases... We will continue to be told that we need this test and that test or these standards or those standards but none of those products can work as advertised in isolation without addressing the root causes."

Currently, a group of New Jersey educators are examining Common Core's math and language arts standards and considering adjustments for the future. Though no overhaul is anticipated, New Jersey is – at least in name – diverging from the Common Core State Standards. Since the state is sticking with the PARCC test, changes are likely to be limited.

"The bottom line is our kids today are being over tested," said Dan Staples, a parent and president of the Manchester Township Education Association, the school district's teachers union.

"How does multiple three-week windows spent testing instead of learning help kids?" he wrote in a message to a reporter. "For these reasons and more I will never allow my children to be subjected to PARCC."

For more information on PARCC and how to interpret individual scores, visit understandthescore.org.

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