New Jersey, like most states that participated in the PARCC testing this spring is reeling from the experience that was widely met withcriticism and resistance by parents, educators and community stakeholders. PARCC testing, based on the Common Core Standards that were implemented in New Jersey in 2012, focused on close reading and synthesis, encouraging even the youngest students to read a variety of passages to draw conclusions. Parents complained about the time taken from class to prepare for the test, as subject-area instructional time was sacrificed in preparation for the use of technology required for student participation in the online assessments.
Organizations rose all over the state to resist the testing and to discourage student participation in the tests. Many districts responded either by sending letters to the community that enforced the rules more stringently or that offered tacit support for refusal. Social media buzzed with activity around the testing, some of which was focused on academics, some of which devolved into accusatory screeds.
Governor Chris Christie, who initially supported both the standards and the testing, backed off from both as the statewide climate became more resistant. As a result, both the Standards, which have greatly altered the instructional design of both ELA and Mathematics curricula, and the testing were taken off the table. Right now, the only solidly-supported programs are the STEM subjects and early literacy.
Additionally, in the “Perfect Storm” that hit New Jersey teachers over the last two years – new observation formats with increased accountability; online high-stakes assessment; implementation of new standards requiring massive curriculum revision; examination of pay, pensions, and benefits – it’s a wonder that anything is getting done. ELA teachers are especially vulnerable at this time as the spotlight shines on the assessment of developmental literacy before Grade 3 and the focus on reading nonfiction pieces across the curriculum changes the definition of what it means to be an English teacher for many educators.
As noted inDistrict Administration, many states have chosen to retain the Standards and devise their own testing. However, New Jersey will continue with thePARCC in ELA and Math in grades 3-12 as part of NCLB,but may heed theGovernor’s call for rejecting the Common Core. PARCC assessments in literacy are based solidly on the Common Core’s emphasis on synthesis in reading before developing a thesis or response to several passages. If educators wish to drive success on the PARCC, a return to the New Jersey Common Core Standards in Language Arts may not support student success.
The “restructuring” of educational administration in some districts also has ELA teachers on alert. Due to increased costs driven by the need for more technology to deliver online assessments, the greater expense required to provide more observations as per the Danielson (the most popular in NJ districts) and other formats, and the Common Core’s focus on inter-disciplinary reading and writing, some school districts have moved to a “Director of Instruction” model, diminishing or eliminating the specialized subject-area supervisor role.