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NJ Education Official Discusses Upcoming Changes in Student Testing

PARCC testing will replace NJASK and HSPA in 2015.

Dr. Bari Erlichson, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education, discussed upcoming changes to student assessment within the Garden State Monday evening at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School. 

Parents and educators listened attentively to Erlichson's near-two-hour presentation as she addressed the "mismatch" in graduation rates and student achievement outcomes on statewide and national assessments such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Additionally, she explained the future of New Jersey's student assessment program, including the transition to PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) in 2015.

Over the last several years, PARCC, a partnership of 19 states, has been working to launch new assessments in English language arts and math, aligned to the Common Core, in the 2014-15 school year. These tests will replace current statewide assessments, the NJASK (New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) and HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment). 

Erlichson, a parent and former Rutger University professor, began by stating that she feels blessed to live and work in a state with such a fine educational system. That said, some changes need to be made, she explained, breaking down her presentation into the following:
  • What is the “problem” we’re trying to solve nationwide?
  • What is common core? 
  • Why new assessments now?
  • Why is NJ well-positioned for these changes? And Summit? 
  • What is PARCC and what are we doing to transition? 

Erlichson explained that while test scores and graduation rates in some states make it seem like a positive picture for schools, students are not prepared for post-secondary education. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the need for remediation, non-credit classes, is widespread. When considering all first-time undergraduates, studies have found anywhere from 28 to 40 percent of students enroll in at least one remedial course. When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50 percent. Students are not testing at college-ready levels on national assessments, the NCSL stated, with only 25 percent of students who took the ACT meeting the test’s readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (English, reading, math and science) in 2012.

Further, Erlichson said the costs of remedial education to states and students are estimated at $2.3 billion each year. The Common Core, which provides a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, was developed to remedy this, Erlichson explained. The Common Core encourages critical thinking rather than strict memorization and this will be assessed under PARCC starting in 2015. (Erlichson referred parents and educators to this website for a better understanding of common core standards for mathematics.

Other positive attributes to this new system, Erlichson said, include faster scoring so that educators and parents can more quickly and accurately assess a student's strengths and weaknesses. Students will also have an opportunity to take the corresponding PARCC exam at the end of their course of study. There will be no holding students back to prepare for taking the test, Erlichson said. If a seventh grader completes Algebra I, he or she will then take the PARCC test for Algebra I.

PARCC will be administered by computer and while the cost to the state, at $29 per student, is comparable to that of the NJASK, it will be up to each district to work out the techonological logistics when it comes time for test taking. 

For the initial years of PARCC testing, any student currently in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade will not need to "pass" the assessments as a requirement for graduation.

Erlichson explained that the 2014 class of seniors who took the HSPA as juniors can retake that this spring. Current juniors, who will be seniors in 2015, will have the option of retaking the HSPA in 2015, should they choose to, while students who will be seniors in 2016 will take the PARCC in the spring of their junior year, 2015. 

In closing, Superintendent Dr. Nathan Parker and Board of Education President Gloria Ron-Fornes thanked Erlichson for her time and insight. They also thanked parents and educators for attending. 

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