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PARCC  Update:

Hespe’s Testimony: N.J. Education Commissioner David Hespe addressed  the Senate Education Committee about the roll-out of PARCC exams. The Star-Ledger says that senators expressed concerns about inadequate communication and Hespe replied that “the department has tried to get information to the community but it doesn’t have the budget to compete with expensive ad campaigns against PARCC — the New Jersey Education Association launched a six-week campaign in February. There’s also too much misinformation swirling about the new tests.”

NJ Spotlight reports that “[f]or more than two hours, state Education Commissioner David Hespe yesterday gave a full-scale defense of the PARCC testing that has stirred so much debate in New Jersey. Speaking for the first time before the state Senate education committee, the commissioner said the PARCC launch has gone well so far, adding that participation was ‘very strong’ even in the face of a statewide ‘opt-out’ movement, although he gave no specific numbers.”

Sen. James Beach (D-Camden) seemed to speak for many legislators when he  said, “the state needs to address the concerns about PARCC before next school year.” Also see coverage from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Opt-Out Consequences:

New Jersey education officials warned lawmakers in Trenton Thursday that if too many students refuse to take the new state tests that are now under way, the state might lose part of its roughly $900 million in annual federal aid. 

Some anti-testing groups have claimed that threats of federal penalties are bluffs. But in a two-hour hearing, education Commissioner David Hespe repeatedly cited a February letter from the U.S. Department of Education underscoring that by law, at least 95% of students in tested grades must participate in annual assessments to avoid federal sanctions. (Wall St. Journal)

Opt-Out Numbers: “Overall, what we are seeing is very strong participation, especially among the middle school and elementary school students, where I think our message regarding PARCC as a learning tool really resonates the most,” Hespe said in testimony before the state Senate Education Committee.” (Star Ledger)

But The Record confirms that opt-out percentages are higher in wealthier communities, especially high-income high schools where students can substitute SAT and ACT scores to meet graduation requirements. Here’s the rundown on first-week refusals in some districts in Bergen County:

Ramapo High School: 494 refusals out of total 1,086 students;
Indian Hills High School: 383 refusals out of total 1,220 students;
Oakland: 135 refusals out of 1,181 eligible students in Grades 3-8.
Wyckoff: 125 refusals out of total 789 students;
Midland Park: 87 refusals out of 807 eligible students.
Ramsey: “less than 40” refusals out of total 2,300 students;
Franklin Lakes: 34 refusals out of total 859 students;
Mahwah: “slight” refusals out of 3,200 students;
Waldwick: “refusals have not had a significant impact.”

PARCC costs: “The preliminary bill for New Jersey’s new standardized tests is expected to be about $22.1 million, about $4 million less than original estimates, state officials said today.” The original estimate was high, says the Star-Ledger, because the state assumed 50% of students would take the tests on paper rather than computer, but only 2% used paper instead of computers.

The costs, explain NJ Spotlight, are more than the ASK and HSPA because more children are tested: “The state Department of Education officials also stressed that the per-pupil cost of $22.50 is less under PARCC – a fully computerized exam — than for the state’s previous paper-and-pencil exams, which cost the state about $28.50 per student. But close to 200,000 additional New Jersey students are taking PARCC, bringing up the cost.” The analysis links to the contract with Pearson.

Et. Alia: Today’s Star Ledger says that “the use of PARCC data may be small factor in New Jersey’s teacher evaluations, but it is playing a large role in the controversy surrounding the new tests.”

And the Blue Jersey crowd is lathered up about an incident in Watchung Hills Regional High Schools where, during a PARCC exam, a student tweeted a reference to a question and the tweet was identified by the DOE.  Is Pearson in cahoots with the DOE to spy on student data? Unlikely, but here’s the link.

Non-PARCC Update:
“According to the latest data released by the state, the graduation rate in New Jersey rose slightly to 88.6 percent in 2014.” The Star Ledger article also includes a district-by-district database.

“Gov. Chris Christie has touted a budget proposal that promises a fifth straight year of historic education funding for New Jersey. But an NJ Advance Media analysis of 10 years of state spending data shows that K-12 funding for school districts has actually dropped in the last decade when adjusted for inflation.”
The Camden Education Association settled its contract with the districts. Details from the Star-Ledger, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and NJ Spotlight.
Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson submitted a 35-page memo to state legislators as a follow-up to her meeting with them earlier in the year.  From John Mooney’s overview

Anderson pulls few punches in pointing out that the district due to charter school growth and other factors will see enrollment drop within two years by a third from what it was just five years ago. 

By 2016, NPS will serve approximately 30,000 students—a 33% decline from the 45,000 students it served in 2008. While this trend has resulted in increased choice and opportunity for many Newark students, it has led to a significant reduction in funding to the district. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining and improving our district schools has not declined at the same pace.

According to a district press release, “Camden City School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced that the District will host a Camden City High School Fair tomorrow Saturday, March 14. The Fair will give 7th- and 8th-graders and their families as much information as possible as they make a choice about the future of their education.”

Gregory McGinity, senior managing director of the Broad Foundation, notes in the Wall St. Journal that UFT happily accepted $1 million in  Broad grants to start up its charter schools, which was just closed for low performance.

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  • kallikak, March 16, 2015 @ 2:32 pm Reply

    Stop misrepresenting reality, Laura. The offending PARCC tweet happened after testing was concluded and did not include an image of a test question as alleged by Pearson in its call to the NJDOE.

    Let's be clear: Pearson is 'monitoring' student communications—like an intelligence agency—and directing DOE bureaucrats in Trenton to discipline alleged miscreants.

    By all accounts, in this instance, DOE staff acted like compliant flunkies as regards their unquestioning acceptance of Pearson's assertions and subsequent demand to the Watchung test coordinator that (harsh) discipline be imposed on the accused student.

    This episode raises serious questions, not the least of which is how a vendor (Pearson) can direct employees of the NJDOE in their duties.

  • NJ Left Behind, March 16, 2015 @ 6:38 pm Reply

    I addressed some of this today, Kallikak.

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