Online testing wrong way to go: PARCC exams set to replace NJASK and HSPA

New standardized tests taken online may prove costly to some students. (AP Photo)
New standardized tests taken online may prove costly to some students. (AP Photo)

By Alyssa Sanford

Standardized testing in New Jersey is about to become a lot more demanding — and discriminating — for students of all ages.

If you haven’t heard of PARCC — the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — that’s because it’s a new, online standardized test. According to the New York Times, PARCC has been adopted by school districts in 12 states, including New Jer- sey. PARCC is set to replace tests like the NJASK and HSPA, which tested students from third to eighth grade and high school juniors, respectively.

The new standardized tests are a result of Common Core standards. New Jersey adopted the Common Core in 2010, which is a set of standards in English and mathematics education. Students all across America are expected to learn a specific set of skills in both of these subject areas and take standardized tests that reflect their overall understanding of those concepts. The goal of implementing the Common Core is preparation for college and the work- force, with the National Governor’s Association arguing that “all students (will be) prepared to succeed in our global economy and society” after preparing for and taking these tests.

In the spring of 2015, New Jersey students from third grade to 12th grade will be required to take a series of PARCC tests. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) reports that there will be a performance-based assessment; a speaking and listening as- sessment; and an end-of-year, computer-based assessment. As the tests will be administered online, the durations will rival that of the SAT. Third graders, for example, will be expected to complete approximately eight hours worth of testing, while juniors in high school will spend nine hours and 55 minutes in total on their tests. Tests will only be available for 20-day windows.

It’s no secret that there are academic achievement gaps between students in affluent districts and students in urban and urban-rim districts. For instance, according to data on GreatSchools.org, Trenton Central High students scored an average 66 percent in language arts literacy on the HSPAs in 2013 and 35 percent in math proficiency. The state average for 2013 was 92 percent for language arts literacy and 80 percent for math proficiency. By comparison, Hopewell Valley Central High, a local suburban high school, scored 97 percent in language arts literacy and 92 percent in math proficiency.

These tests were taken with No. 2 pencils and Scantrons. Imagine the disparity between these two districts when standardized testing is administered online, when students from urban districts may lack sufficient access to a computer or struggle with using one.

It seems to me that PARCC testing, while designed to effectively prepare all students for college and the work- force, is actually designed to further impede at-risk students from performing well. The sheer number of hours that students are expected to devote to these tests is daunting enough, but insisting that these tests be taken online when there are thousands of students without proper computing skills simply makes no sense. If anything, Common Core standards should strive to make standardized testing fit the needs and abilities of all students. This is the wrong approach.

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