TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — One of Darcie Cimarusti’s twin third-graders is dyslexic, and when she’s tried the sample versions of a new standardized test being given for the first time in New Jersey next month, she’s been rated as “partially proficient” — that is, not passing.
Like an increasingly vocal number of parents in the state, Cimarusti wants to be able to have her daughter opt out from the test. She’s advocating for a law that would make it clear that parents in New Jersey can have their students skip the test.
“Why do I want to put her through that just for her to fail, when it feels like she hasn’t been properly prepared?” asked Cimarusti, who works for the anti-testing Network for Public Education and also serves on the school board in Highland Park. She wants to make it clear that when she criticizes the testing, she’s not speaking on behalf of the board.
With the tests scheduled for next month, the anti-PARCC sentiment is running high. Parents across the state are forming Facebook groups and questioning school officials.
The new test, developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College in Careers, is debuting this year in New Jersey and 11 other states. It’s to be given to all public-school children in third through 11th grade in New Jersey starting in March.
The results won’t determine whether students pass — though they could be a factor in determining whether they get into gifted programs. But for some teachers, there will be stakes: How much students improve will make up part of the evaluation that determines tenure for language arts and math teachers in grades four through 11.
It’s not clear now what happens if students refuse to be tested.
A bill being pushed by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, a Democrat from South Plainfield, would spell out that parents could notify a school up to two weeks before a test is to be given that he or she will not participate.
“It’s time for everybody to take a time-out,” he said. “Everywhere I go, there’s so much confusion about how PARCC is being administered.”
He said he hopes to have the bill on the governor’s desk by the end of March. That would be too late to affect this year’s testing but in time for next year’s.
The PARCC test is one of two that’s been developed by private groups for consortiums of states that have joined the Common Core curriculum, which seeks to define what students across the country learn in school.
Its critics say the testing will take up too much time — the 10 hours of testing time is longer than the previous exams. They also worry that it’s being administered online only and that could mean it tests how well students can use computers as much as what they’re learning.
Critics are also concerned about the content of the exams.
“Adults who have taken the practice test online are pretty shocked by the way the questions are designed and worded,” said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state. “They find them to be confusing, misleading.”
Jennifer O’Donnell, who has a son in 6th grade and a daughter in 5th in Gloucester Township, says she will not let them take the tests.
Her main concern is how the data collected as part of it will be used, despite assurances that it will not be used commercially and that individual student data collected over time will not be shared with the federal government.
“They’re trying to track the children from basically preschool to college to their careers,” said O’Donnell, who has started a Facebook group for other parents in her town who are wary of the test.
Bari Erlichson, an assistant education commissioner, said the PARCC test will be useful to show teachers, schools and parents exactly where their students are performing well and where they need more work.
“We’re really excited about the way PARCC improves upon the assessment programs we’ve had in the past,” Erlichson said.
And for those considering boycotting? “They ought to give it a chance,” she said.
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