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Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) is offering formal presentations to educate parents about PARCC, “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.” Yesterday, Hopewell Elementary School (HES) Principal David Friedrich and Daniel Umstead, HVRSD Coordinator of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction, offered the first of six identical presentations, one offered at each of the schools in the district. (Slideshow text is available online. And HVRSD has prepared a “Frequency Asked Questions” page available that you can check out here.)

PARCC is a state-mandated exam that will serve as an education assessment tool replacing the NJASK “New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge” and will be administered to students in grades 3 through 11 starting March throughout New Jersey. This computer administered exam aims to assess skills for success in college/career and mastery of the common core standards in the subjects of mathematics and english language arts/literacy.

For third grade children, the exam will be administered for 64 minutes per day for 8 days  — over 8 1/2 hours of testing. By the time a child reaches high school, he or she will be spending over 11 hours of classroom time taking PARCC.

PARCC

New Jersey is joined by nine other states and the District of Columbia in offering PARCC and is 1 of 43 states that have adopted the Common Core standards. Those states that do not administer PARCC utilize other common core-based tests that are similar, explained Umstead.

“When developing the common core, a committee assessed what skills were necessary for the real world and college and worked backwards. When talking about PARCC and common core, we’re talking about a high level of rigor. The expectations are higher in common core standards,” explained Friedrich. “But a lot of the things that are going to be assessed in PARCC are happening in our classrooms and our curriculum already aligns to common core. These are tasks being done in the classrooms not just because the students are preparing for PARCC but also because these are best practices and prepare the children for lifelong reading and math skills.”
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PARCC has two separate components that are issued at different points in the school year. The first component, which will be administered starting March 2, 2015 to 3rd graders, is the Performance Based Assessment (PBA) which tests literacy and math focusing on “ability to write effectively, build and communicate knowledge…,” “solve problems involving key grade knowledge and skills, express mathematical reasoning… and apply concepts to solve model real-world problems,” according to the presentation.

The PBA component is answer-format with children needing to type their answers on a computer. At today’s meeting, the necessity to type raised the issue of the effect of a child’s typing proficiency on the child’s performance on PARCC. While PARCC has said that there should be no material difference, some parents in attendance worried that a child who is not able to type his or her thoughts quickly would not do as well on the exam. Principal Friedrich expressed his commitment to working with the HES staff to ascertain what worked well and what did not and then share the information with the state, just they had for NJASK.

The second component, which will be administered starting at the end of April, is the End of Year Assessment (EOY). Ulstead explained that, at the time of the creation of the slideshow presentation, there was not enough information available on the EOY however HVRSD received notice yesterday that the state released practice test questions for this component. The EOY is only multiple choice with the intent of scoring it quickly and getting the information back to districts as soon as possible.

The long-term goal of PARCC is to provide schools and parents with feedback in a timely fashion. In the first year, feedback will be shared with schools by mid-October/end of October, explained Friedrich. While there is some argument whether this is timely, PARCC claims that, as this is the first year of administration, the goal is to provide the feedback more timely in subsequent years. NJASK results were provided in the beginning to middle of September. PARCC claims that it will ultimately be able to provide parents and educators with meaningful feedback.

“If done well, it would provide us with more information than we’ve ever had before” said Umstead. “The report will allow the district to see across a classroom, a grade-level and across the district to compare wrong answers and what might need to be addressed.”

The data assembled from PARCC will also be used by the New Jersey Department of Education’s newly adopted teacher and administrator evaluation system that incorporates student performance data.

“We use multiple measures to determine how successful a teacher is. Right now, the state requires us to make numerous formal obersvations and use standardized testing scores,” said Friedrich. “This is causing stress for teachers because a lot of their assessment is based on how their students perform on the standardized tests. With PARCC, 10% of teacher assessment is student PARCC performance.”

Because PARCC is computer administered, computer use for each student is necessary. When asked how much of the budget has been specifically dedicated to PARCC costs, HVRSD Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith was unable to pin down a specific number.

“It is difficult to quantify the impact of PARCC.  Technology-wise, most purchases, like the roll out of the 1:1 laptop program, were moving forward regardless of PARCC.  It may have fast-tracked some decisions, but PARCC was not the driving force behind our technology efforts,” said Superintendent Smith. “With regard to staff time, this is where we have seen the biggest impact.  Whether it is discussions about logistics or simply answering questions related to the new assessment, most district staff and administrative meetings have had a PARCC component. Because most of the conversations are intertwined with other topics, this too is difficult to quantify.”

With the surrounding confusing and dissent about the exam, many parents are opting out — with the technical term “refusing.” Saveourschoolsnj.org, a non-partisan organization providing support and information for parents who are choosing to refuse PARCC, has provided 12 reasons why they oppose PARCC.

“Most conversations that I have had with staff and parents are due to unknowns about the PARCC and unfortunately, we don’t have answers to all the questions at this time – which I think heightens anxiety,” said HVRSD Superintendent Smith. “As a district, we are approaching this as another student assessment given by the State and we will be prepared to implement it.”

While PARCC is state-mandated, in that school districts are required to provide it, parents may to refuse to allow their children to take the exam. HVRSD’s current policy, if a parent chooses to refuse to have his or her child take the test, is to submit a letter to HVRSD Superintendent Dr. Tom Smith (or the school principal who will send it to Dr. Smith). The letter should clearly express wishes to refuse testing and the school will confirm the refusal with the child, on the day of testing. The child will be placed in a quiet room at school and be supervised by an adult to work on something independently.

HVRSD was poised to pass a test refusal resolution at the recent weather-cancelled school board meeting which says, in part, “that it is the policy of the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education that instances of test refusal should be met with educationally appropriate, not punitive, responses, including alternative settings for students that refuse to take the assessment.”

The following is the list of upcoming scheduled formal presentations being offered by HVRSD:

Central High School – Thursday, February 26 @ 6:00 pm – Media Center
Timberlane – Friday, February 13 @ 9:00 am – TMS 8th Grade House Center
Toll Gate – Thursday, February 26 @ 9:15 – Media Center
Stony Brook – Thursday, February 12 @ 7:00 pm – Cafeteria
(Hopewell – Held on Wednesday, February 11)

Individual schools may also host less formal Q&As (HES is holding one on Wednesday night at 6:30 – RSVP to HES please).

MercerMe will continue to follow this issue and would like to hear from readers. We accept Letters to the Editor — no deadlines, no word limits. Just email us and we’ll give you the details!

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with mild germaphobia, excessive self-reflection, enthusiastic television viewing, and misguided adventures in random hobbies.

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