Murphy made a mess of the PARCC. Will he help clean it up? | Editorial

Posted Oct 28, 2019

The PARCC was the only objective measure that told us the truth about whether kids were really learning what they needed to.

The test uncovered achievement gaps inside of districts, huge disparities between black and white students in Montclair and South Orange-Maplewood that civil rights advocates are now challenging. The ACT or SAT won’t tell you that.

It was also a check on grade inflation. Kids can graduate with passing grades and still be unable to pass a 9th grade level test. They land in deep water in college.

People don’t like testing, for reasons we sympathize with. But there are real consequences for kids when you do away with it.

That’s what Gov. Phil Murphy has tried, ineptly, to do. Not only did he make a mess and leave a big hole in the data. He is actually subjecting students to pointless re-tests. How did things go so wrong? Let’s review.

On the campaign trail, Murphy resurrected a muted anti-testing movement. He focused his attack on PARCC because it was the test the teacher’s union didn’t like, even though these days it has virtually no impact on teacher evaluations.

Instead of eliminating the test entirely, as he initially vowed to do, he agreed to shave it down, and rename it. But then he ran into trouble in court. An outdated state law says we must give a graduation test in a specific year, 11th grade, which upended his compromise plan.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz tried to fix this with a sensible bill that did away with that rule, to allow flexibility. Yet even that became controversial. Anti-testing groups spread the false rumor that it would lead to unfettered testing – as if it isn’t hard enough to protect the tests we have now.

As a result, Assembly lawmakers didn’t have the guts to vote on it. And here’s where we’ve landed: In Murphy’s new system, the parents who want their kids to opt-out can do so – but most kids will have to do a re-test. Absurd.

Right now, kids take English and math tests in 9th and 10th grade. Yet starting with the class of 2023, parents will be allowed to opt their kids out of state testing entirely and submit a portfolio of other work.

The reality is, though, most kids will still sit for the state tests. We will be eliminating the 10th grade exams, which leaves a hole in the data and particularly hurts kids who are struggling. No longer will we have this window into how they’re doing.

And to comply with the court, we are going through the expensive and onerous process of coming up with a new 11th grade test. To make things worse, state officials have admitted this will be a retest, for reasons that remain unclear.

Kids will be tested on material they were already tested on in 8th or 9th grade, in the most frenzied year of high school, when it’s too late for most remedial work.

All so the Murphy administration can save face, apparently, by saying it eliminated some tests while still meeting the court’s standards. It’s obvious that the career professionals at his Department of Education don’t want to do this.

“When you have members of the DOE saying this is not the best, but it’s what we can do and what we can get, you should just put the brakes on and stop,” as Ruiz says. “Why go through all of this, instead of just fixing the current statute?”

The answer, of course, is politics. Don’t make kids suffer, governor: Help pass her bill after the Nov. 5th election, when legislators are feeling braver. Go back to the drawing board, to find a better solution.

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