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PARCC it: The test is back

Lindsay Freidenrich, Business Manager/ R3 News Editor

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This year, WHS will be taking a new approach to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, otherwise known as the PARCC test. New policies regarding scheduling as well as student participation in the test have been implemented, changing the system that WHS has been following for the past three years.

The test this year will take place during 6 consecutive school days, between April 16-23. All students in grades 9-11 will be testing between 8 and 10 a.m., followed by a block schedule that includes 5 classes per day with a common lunch period.

Possibly the biggest change in the PARCC testing policy is the elimination of the opt-out option. While in past years parents were able to exempt their children from the exam as long as students met their graduation requirements, that option is no longer available, said WHS Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson. “The opting out has had a detrimental effect on how the school is being reported in the state due to our scores, because we have so many kids who are not taking the test that are supposed to,” Nelson said.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, a federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015, gives individual states the power to set their own standards for testing to assess students’ progress. Along with this act, the New Jersey Department of Education has adopted a new ratings system in which PARCC proficiency is heavily weighted. The ESSA requires schools to test at least 95 percent of their students, so when more than 5 percent opt out, the rest of those students are recorded as not passing the test. More than half of WHS students have been choosing to skip the exam in the past few years, resulting in scores that, based on this new system, are below the standards expected for the district.

“When you look at the scores that we have now, you know it’s not indicative of what we are at Westfield High School,” Nelson said. “Our scores in the Department of Education say that we’re 17 percent proficient in math, and that’s all because we don’t have all our kids taking the test. So of course we can’t operate in that fashion anymore.”

While New Jersey state laws have not changed in the past few years, it is the Westfield School District that is taking action to ensure that WHS students meet the rankings that the town and the state expect.

However, the connection between these ratings and the PARCC test has sparked controversy within the WHS community. “Because of state rankings, we’re sort of artificially being made to administer and impose this test,” an anonymous WHS teacher said. “It’s not because it has educational value or because it’s necessarily a worthwhile test, but simply because we need to fulfill this arbitrary standard of what makes a successful school district or not.”

There are also those who question the impact of these policies on the students themselves. “Unfortunately, people judge schools on metrics rather than the actual quality of schools,” said Mr. Robert Ebert, a psychology teacher. “It’s very unfortunate that the students have to suffer because of this. The hurdle to pass the test and graduate high school is still quite low. Far too many students take it that I don’t think need to. So I don’t think it’s in students’ interest that that test be given to them.”

The administration has faced some tough decisions regarding the PARCC, which consumes more than a week of instructional time. While Nelson does not support “testing just to test,” he feels that these new policies are for the benefit of the WHS community. “I don’t live or die by rankings, but at the same token, I don’t want to do anything that’s going to have a detrimental effect on our school,” Nelson said.

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