The state Department of Education has updated the list of various assessments that current high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors will be able to use to meet the state graduation requirement during the phase-in period for new state tests.
The new list, sent to chief school administrators last week, adds the PSAT and ACT Aspire tests to the list of substitute assessments students can use in place of passing the new state PARCC assessments to be given for the first time starting in March.
The list also changes the minimum passing scores on two tests. The passing score for the Accuplacer Write Placer drops from 8 to 6, and the minimum passing score on the military ASVAB/AFQT test rises one point to 31.
The large menu of options is creating a logistical challenge for high school counselors who will have to track which tests students take and pass to make sure they can graduate. This year they also also tracking the last administration of the old HSPA graduation test for seniors who did not pass it in their junior year.
Shelley Grossman, president of the Cape Atlantic School Counselors Association said it has been confusing because the process keeps changing. She said counselors barely discussed PARCC as a high school graduation requirement at their fall conference because at the time it was not expected to be a used as a graduation requirement, but only as a field test.
Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe announced in late September that students in the graduating classes of 2016, 2017, and 2018 could use their PARCC scores to meet the graduation requirement, or they could also use the results of several other approved standardized tests including the SAT, ACT and Accuplacer. The PARCC tests are not expected to become the sole graduation requirement until at least 2019.
Urban school officials have expressed concern that since many of their students do not plan to attend college, they are less likely to take another standadized test like the SAT, making their only graduation options passing the PARCC or a state Department of Education portfolio review, which is time-consuming to prepare.
The state also said that schools that use block or semester scheduling do not have to require students who took a tested course in the fall to take the PARCC test in the spring of 2015. A special testing period was added later in the spring for schools on block scheduling.
Millville High School principal Kathleen Procopio said she is concerned that if she exempts juniors in the fall block from testing in the spring, she is hurting their chances to meet the graduation requirement since some may not plan to take another standardized test.
“It limits their options,” she said.
Procopio said without another test, the only option for students who fail the new PARCC is the portfolio review. She said if she exempts the students in the fall block, and they don’t have another standardized test to fall back on, staff could have hundreds of portfolios to prepare.
Most school officials said they believe the large variety of options will provide enough flexibilty to make sure all qualified students graduate. But they do agree that the logistics of tracking every student will take some time to set up.
Hammonton school guidance supervisor Michael Ryan said he doesn’t expect to have many portfolio reviews, but he is expecting more paperwork.
“This will result in a more complicated record keeping system for the guidance office, but it shouldn't have an impact on a school's graduation rate,” he said.
State officials said they understand concerns about the new test, but that the new PARCC tests will be more valuable to teachers and parents and concerns are being addressed.
Department spokesman Mike Yaple said the the big complaint about the old paper-and-pencil test is that it really didn’t give educators any data to improve classroom instruction. In addition, the old test didn’t provide parents with insights into whether their child is on track to graduate ready for college and career.
“The electronic PARCC test is designed to address that,” he said in an email. “Through PARCC, New Jersey schools will have a tool that will help educators improve the classroom, and give parents some truly meaningful feedback on how their child is doing.”
He said the department has been strongly encouraging schools to download the test onto a local server, where student computers or devices can connect to it locally rather than relying on Internet bandwidth, which has been a concern.
While the testing is required of all students taking the PARCC-tested courses in English, algebra, alebra II and geometry, the flexibilty options also provide an alternative for the small number of students who “opt out” of taking the PARCC tests entirely.
Hespe has said that typically less than 1 percent of students have refused to take the test or turned in blank answer booklets, and the expectation is that all students will take the tests. Students who skip school on testing days would be subject to their district’s attendance and discipline policies.
There has been a small movement statewide to opt out of PARCC testing, and the most recent department memo indicates that for at least for the next three years high school students will be able to substitute one of the other options.
Yaple said in an email that during the phase-in period a district may accept any of the substitute tests to qualify to meet graduation requirements.
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