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  •  Assessments: The Great Debate of 2015

    There is a growing national trend that is playing out in New Jersey: parents are questioning much about the PARCC assessments which are beginning this month. Among their concerns are the length of tests, the loss of instructional time, the dependability of technology tools and systems, the use of results, the cost of assessments, and the privacy of student information. These concerns are exacerbated by the rhetoric of NJEA leadership which opposes the assessments altogether. 

    NJASA leaders are speaking to these issues with community members at school and board of education meetings and at focused “town hall” gatherings around the state. NJASA is cooperating with the NJ Department of Education and other state education organizations to examine these issues, but more importantly, to talk about the value of these new technology-based assessments for students. NJASA has hosted two regional Symposiums for chief education officers that focused on the PARCC assessments as a learning tool, examined the vision for the use of data, reviewed teacher and parent reports, and shared best practices in communicating with stakeholders. Chief Education Officers participated in break-out sessions that explored legal issues and community communications with colleagues who have successfully addressed them in their districts.

    The PARCC assessments are the new component of a long-standing program of state assessment of student progress, replacing prior versions.  State assessments are, and have been, only one of the multiple assessments in which students participate. Many of these assessments are dictated by local policy and practice, contributing to a majority perception among educators and parents that there is too much assessment every year.  Often forgotten in the debate is the federal role in mandating assessments through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The new PARCC assessments have provided a laser focus for “over testing” and are receiving the brunt of the frustration about a critical component of the curriculum. 

    One important avenue for school leaders and community members to provide input to the state’s assessment practices is direct testimony to the members of the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey. This nine-member panel was created by Executive Order of Governor Christie and is charged with presenting recommendations to him regarding the quality and effectiveness of student assessments administered to students in kindergarten through grade 12. NJASA member Dr. Marcia Lyles, Superintendent of the Jersey City Public Schools, is a member of the Commission. While the Commission’s public hearings have concluded, I encourage you to share your comments with the Commission. 

    NJASA members are leading the discussion about assessment as an essential element of the teaching-learning process and are addressing the issues raised about PARCC assessments with staff and community members. We understand that there is an ongoing need for information and conversation with community residents. We also believe that parents and educators need to know how our students fare in achieving higher standards and how their level of achievement compares with students in other districts and states as we prepare them for what they will encounter following graduation. 

    Together we shall work through the challenges, learn from our experiences, and elevate student achievement.