Test Day: Schools Start to Give Exam Derided by Some Parents

New Jersey school districts on Monday began administering highly debated new standardized tests but faced relatively little protest.

For educators, students and parents at New Jersey's roughly 700 traditional public and charter school districts, the new PARCC exam means all sorts of changes.

The PARCC test, named for the group that created it, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is being given in several states as part of the national Common Core curriculum for schools. It's being given solely on computers and replaces old standardized exams with sheets that students used No. 2 pencils to fill in. There are new formats for questions, and the results are to be used as a factor in teachers' evaluations.

Statewide, up to 900,000 students in third through 11th grades are to take the exam. A few districts started last month, but most students are being given the tests this month and then again at the end of the school year. Supporters of the exams say they will provide more specific information for teachers and parents and do more to encourage critical thinking than previous standardized exams.

People who oppose the tests say the preparations and the exams themselves take up too much time, the questions don't always make sense and the stakes add too much pressure for students.

The state Department of Education did not report any widespread problems in the first large-scale day of testing Monday, though many schools pushed back testing a day because of weather delays.

"We believe that most parents understand the value that the new PARCC assessments will provide to them and to their community schools," the state education commissioner, David C. Hespe, said in a statement. "For the first time in decades of statewide student assessments in New Jersey, we have an assessment that is designed to improve the classroom and give parents meaningful feedback about their child's academic progress."

The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has spoken against the exams, and groups including Save Our Schools New Jersey are encouraging a boycott.

At northern New Jersey's Livingston School District, from where Republican Gov. Chris Christie graduated in 1980, district officials say they expect about 1,100 of the 4,100 students in third through 11th grades to skip the test.

District spokeswoman Marilyn Lehren said the district asked parents to tell them by last week if their children would not be participating. Those who are opting out are being moved to other rooms, where they can read or do homework while their classmates take the tests. There, fifth-graders and high-school students were given part of the test Monday.

In some districts, objectors will remain in the classrooms with test takers.

The state Assembly's education committee is scheduled on Thursday to consider a bill that would make it clear that parents can have their children skip the tests.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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