These PARCC tests were just spared a death sentence

NJ.com- The most controversial standardized test in New Jersey history is now becoming the most difficult one to kill. 

Gov. Phil Murphy's proposal to eliminate four of the six PARCC exams for high school students never made it to a vote before the state Board of Education on Wednesday.

Instead, the board revised Murphy's plan and granted preliminary approval to end just one exam, the 11th grade English test, although many students will now take two fewer tests.

The decision punctuates months of heated debate over PARCC's short-term future, which included a last-minute push by Democratic state lawmakers to scale back the Democratic governor's proposal. It became apparent during last month's meeting that the 13-member Education Board was split and an overhaul once thought be a forgone conclusion was in jeopardy.

"There is no doubt in my mind that not everybody is totally happy with everything we have before us today," board member Ronald Butcher said. "It does represent comprise, and I think it represents consensus on how can move forward."

The amended proposal passed with only two votes against it and was praised by education groups that had made passionate arguments both for and against reducing the number of exams.

"We think that this is an important step forward,' said Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, which supported ending the four exams. "It really prioritized the needs of students and the well-being of students." The new plan requires final approval from the board in the coming months. Once it's official, it will spare the ninth grade English exam and the Algebra II and Geometry exams from elimination.

Opponents of ending those tests had worried the state would be dumbing down its testing requirements and missing an opportunity to measure student learning. But state officials argued that students who couldn't pass their state exams in eighth grade have been mired in a cycle of failure that only hurt them during high school.

Under the new plan, all students will be given the 9th and 10th grade English exams. The state will also give students a standardized math test in both ninth and 10th grade -- either the Algebra 1, Algebra II or Geometry text, depending on which course a student is taking that year.

Though none of three math tests for high school students are completely going away, students who start Algebra 1 in ninth grade or later would take one fewer math exam than before.

The amendments reflect the state Education Department's willingness to listen to concerns and find the best solution for students, teachers and parents, state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said.

"This wasn't an us vs. them," Repollet said of the process. 

Notably, the board accepted Murphy's proposal to extend the graduation requirements for the Class of 2019 to subsequent classes.

Without Murphy's change, students would have been required to pass the Algebra I and 10th-grade English exams, two tests with low pass rates. Instead, they can use passing scores on PARCC exams or scores from alternative tests like the SAT or ACT to meet their graduation requirement.

The revised requirements will remain in effect until the Class of 2025 graduates, board president Areclio Aponte said.

"To say that we are ever going to get everyone 100 percent happy is difficult to say," Aponte said, "but I think ultimately this is going to work well for the districts, work well for students, work well for parents."

The vote should produce the first tangible sign of Murphy fulfilling his signature education campaign promise -- ridding New Jersey schools of PARCC.

The governor initially pledged to "scrap PARCC Day 1," only to later acknowledge the process was more difficult than he realized.

The state has since said students will likely take PARCC for two more school years, although the tests will be rebranded under a different name.

Murphy then announced in July he intended to eliminate four of the six exams for high school students, and it seemed unlikely at the time that the state board would push back.

But heightened skepticism from lawmakers, including state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, the chair of the state Senate Education Committee, led the state board to delay its scheduled vote in September.

Asked if the board would have approved Murphy's changes Wednesday without the amendments, Aponte wouldn't speculate.

"Until a vote is actually required, it's hard to say where everyone is going to land." Aponte said.

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