Let’s Not PARCC It Just Yet

All parents, no matter their zip code or size of their bank account, want the best education for their children and the best opportunities for a successful life. But what if I was to tell you there are plans in the works to lower educational expectations for the students in New Jersey? And the impact would be disproportionate for children who do not live in affluent suburbs, whose parents don’t have financial resources.

This system has been ‘checking in’ almost yearly during students’ educational careers to make sure they were on a college-ready track. It doesn’t care if they are white, black, Asian, Hispanic, etc, wealthy or poor. If any child is falling behind, the data compiled from a quality assessment would alert the district, school, teachers, and parents so that an educational plan would be created to better support the student and their progress. Assessments only care about student success, making them just one important tool in closing the achievement gap.

Notice I have yet to mention the name of this assessment system? That’s because I wanted to allow readers to construct their own opinion before the rhetoric sets in. There has been overwhelming negativity attached to NJ’s assessment system, PARCC. Testing time, frequency, and teacher accountability being some of the major complains heard. I am here to tell you why changing it should cause you concern.

The goal of assessments isn’t to make sure everyone passes or that everyone is comfortable. The goal of a successful assessment policy is to build objective measures for learning.  Assessments tell a parent in Newark how their child is learning compared to their peer in a more affluent school district like Millburn. They help teachers to understand where their students are struggling and administrators to design solutions. With their data, we know whether our schools are meeting the challenge of preparing the kids who graduate to go to college or to a career without requiring remedial work.

Governor Murphy and his administration proposed a plan consisting of a number of changes that could affect your child’s college and career readiness.  Of particular concern are the proposed changes that would eliminate four of the six state assessments given in high school. These proposed changes decrease access to data, like student performance, at critical points along a student’s educational journey. They would eradicate important information parents would normally gather from consistent PARCC data, leaving them to wonder if their children are on track.

Governor Murphy’s proposals restrict data to a point where we may not accurately track how student subgroups are performing compared to their peers. Parents in chronically underperforming districts will have to ask if their student’s A matches that of a student from Livingston. Essentially, we would undermine the accountability system constructed to protect our most vulnerable students. PARCC and the data collected are an integral part of making sure the educational needs of all students across the state are being met.

Now, I am sure some of you are questioning the validity in my above remarks. Will it really have a deep impact on my child? New Jersey is rated one of the best educational programs in the country, so how can this all be true?

Currently, national research shows that two and four year colleges and employers are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of academic content mastery from incoming students. Another national study indicated 62% of employers stated that high schools are not adequately preparing students for the work world.

Let me get this straight. Research is showing that students are entering the workforce with a lack of knowledge they should have mastered in high school? But isn’t NJ rated one of the top states in education? (**puffs chest**) The other states’ low scores must obviously dragging the average, and therefore NJ down. There is no way a high performing state like our own could not be sufficiently preparing the students for success after high school…

That’s not exactly true.

New Jersey’s African American, Latino, and students from low-income families bear the brunt of this reality.  They enroll in remedial coursework at the highest percentages and only 16.3% graduate from two-year colleges. Completion rates for Hispanic and African American students are worse — 10.6% and 6.5%. Overall, 42% of New Jersey students graduate college in four years, yet only 24% of African Americans and Hispanics students do*.

So NJ is supposedly number two in the country for quality education, yet our minority and/or low-income students are enrolling in remedial courses in college? Why are they graduating from school if they are not ready? To me this says not everyone in the state receives this country’s second best education.

Now, imagine cutting down those “check ins” throughout the student’s educational career. How much worse would this get for those students who need the most attention?

Is PARCC perfect? No. And I do not believe anyone is claiming it to be. We should always be open to evaluating the effectiveness of our state’s assessment and high school graduation requirements. I’m just asking everyone to keep the right goals in mind. Students should be graduating high school academically prepared either to attend college or enter the workforce confidently. We should not be only focusing on making it easier and less stressful to graduate. We should be preparing these young minds for the real world. A world that can be hard, unmerciful, and stressful. Kids will not be able to “opt-out” in the real world, so let’s not get them used to it now.