Legislative Superheroes Come Up With A PARCC Fix!

Throughout Phil Murphy’s slipshod attempts to eliminate PARCC assessments I’ve always wondered whether the State Legislature would take some sort of action to maintain this state’s quest for higher standards.  After all, we’re lucky to have some educationally-literate members in both the Assembly and Senate who understand the importance to families for regularly measuring student proficiency, and not just because federal law requires annual assessments in math and reading in grades 3-8, once in grades 6-9, and once again in grades 10-12.

And then, just in the nick of time, just when we seem poised to race to the bottom, the State Legislature showed up!  Superhero time!

Who knows how this will turn out? But I give the Legislature tons of credit for proposing a minor change in statute that will allow New Jersey to do what’s best for our 1.4 million public school students.

Let’s take a step back so we’re clear about the heroics involved here.

Last summer Comm. Lamont Repollet proposed to the State Board of Education and Legislative education committees that NJ limit diploma-qualifying tests to 10th grade reading and Algebra 1, the minimum number of high school assessments required by federal law. True, he was merely obeying his boss’s quest to trash PARCC altogether and satisfy NJEA, whose leaders say that the set of tests  is “a broken system,” even though the results align with the “gold standard” test called NAEP.

Repollet’s proposal was greeted with skepticism.

“What we don’t want to do is socially promote students who are not meeting the bench mark,” said Senate Education Committee chair, Teresa Ruiz. “If we move entirely away from that in the high school years, what kind of data will we be getting to our families and to our teachers and to our principals, to make sure there’s a remediation plan that protects that child?

“I’m finding what I’m listening to is conflicting, and I’m not sure about the strategy that you’re taking, and I’m very, very concerned about this, commissioner,” said Assembly Education Committee chair, Pamela Lampitt.

“Being able to close the achievement gap should keep us all up at night,” Senator Troy Singleton said. “We literally have a tale of two education systems based on our zip codes.

“[A]ny assessment must provide the data to help ensure that our schools are providing high-quality education,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. “As we change our approach to standardized testing in NJ, we have to make sure that we do it in a sensible, evidence-based, and meaningful way.

Reliable data? Strategic planning? Trying to close the achievement gaps? Sensible and evidence-based?

Those objectives were absent from Repollet’s proposal.

No matter. When the State Board made Repollet add English 9 and Algebra 2 to the list of required end-of-course test, cutting the original six PARCC tests to four instead of two, Education Law Center, whose primary funder in NJEA, took the state to court. Last week a superior appellate court ruled in ELC’s favor, agreeing that NJ statute clearly states that diploma-qualifying tests can only be given in 11th grade, thus overturning the DOE’s amended proposal.

Phew, said NJEA and ELC. Save Our Schools-NJ , the anti-choice/accountability group, celebrated,”New Jersey needs to use the excellent Appellate court ruling to eliminate exit testing!”

But they weren’t counting on the Legislature stepping into the breach!

From the Star-Ledger:

A bill introduced Thursday in the state Senate would change state law to accommodate rules created by former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration rather than repealing or revising those rules to comply with state law. The proposal would allow the state to keep in place the current graduation rules, which include the controversial requirement that students pass PARCC exams.

“The easiest way to go about it, we all decided, was to have a legislative fix,” said Ruiz, chair of the Senate’s Education Committee.

Yay! (I’ve suggested this fix; just saying.)

Will the Assembly and Senate pass the bill? Probably. Will Phil Murphy sign it? That’s a harder question. In the Ledger article he says, “PARCC is like the bear hunt. I have wished we could get rid of it on Day 1. And believe me, we’re trying to. This is more complicated than we had thought before we got into office.”

(So a test that accurately, like NAEP, measures student proficiency is a vulnerable beast that should be treasured, not murdered? Or he wants to eliminate — what — protectors of high standards? Still trying to parse this simile.)

Here’s the thing. We hand out high school diplomas that theoretically signify readiness for college and careers. But if we eliminate the tests some like to hate because they’re too hard or the results are embarrassing then we fail the students we’re supposed to serve, rendering invisible the achievement tap that Sen. Singleton references.

Are we trying to make our public education system more transparent or more opaque? Do we want higher standards or lower standards? That’s the question Gov. Murphy must answer when/if this bill arrives on his desk. His decision will tell us much about his ability to evolve as an independent, student-centric leader instead of maintaining his posture as a foil of patronage.

What do you think?

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