Many more New Jersey students took the PARCC tests in the program's second year, and they scored significantly higher across the board. That inspires confidence that students, educators and administrators are developing and implementing the measurements needed to help improve scholastic outcomes.
The computerized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests are designed to align with the Common Core educational standards promulgated by the Obama administration.
Even though standardized testing has been commonplace since the 1970s, this improved version has been opposed by some parents and by the teachers union, which objects to giving the test a modest role in evaluating its members. These led to a significant boycott of the testing in its debut last year.
But then in the fall, that first test started delivering something very valuable - details on each student's strengths and weaknesses in math and language arts. That enables parents and teachers to give students instruction and help precisely where it's most effective.
This year, 65,500 more students took the math test, and another 56,500 took the language arts test. And when the results were released at the start of this month, they showed student scores improved significantly in all grades.
The next day, the N.J. Board of Education voted to make passing PARCC - scoring in the top two of five levels - a requirement for graduation starting in 2021. The president of the board called it a "great measure of college and career readiness" and the "best test out there."
This year, fewer than 60 percent of students were already in the fourth or fifth level, but another 20 percent were not far behind in the third level. State Education Commissioner David Hespe is pretty confident that the effectiveness of the tests and the performance of students will continue to improve steadily in the next five years before the graduation requirement kicks in.
Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman said PARCC provides better information on student readiness for college. He hopes it eventually eliminates the need for the SAT. Many consider the SAT outdated, misleading and even biased.
The N.J. Council of Community Colleges already is using PARCC as a placement tool, automatically putting those scoring 4 or 5 into college-level courses.
Around the time school starts next month, parents will get personal reports on their children generated by the tests.
Here's a tip: Instead of worrying about how close a student is to the fourth or fifth level eventually desired, think of the report as a tool to tailor education to the child's needs in cooperation with his or her teachers.
We don't see the PARCC program as something limiting or punitive. We think it has great potential to help students and teachers get better at what they need to do to succeed in the modern world. Its first two years have been a good start in that direction.