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A Message from Steve Cochrane
An Assessment of PARCC at PPS

Administration Building
25 Valley Road
Princeton, NJ 08540

Tel: 609.806.4200

March 2015

The Princeton Public Schools began administering the state-mandated PARCC assessments for the first time this month. An immense amount of preparation went into the implementation of this new computer-based test, which is given to students in grades 3-11.  While there has been a great deal of energy expended in the media around the issue of test refusal, it is essential to celebrate the tremendous collaboration in our district behind our first implementation of computer-based testing on a massive scale.
We are grateful to our technology staff for the time over several years they have spent setting up for, troubleshooting and ensuring a remarkably smooth implementation.We are grateful to our administrators and our counselors for their coordination of scheduling, logistics, security and accommodations.And, most of all, we are grateful to our teachers for maintaining a focus on instruction, proctoring the exam, and helping our students take the new experience in stride.

Princeton was one of the first districts in the state to provide a protocol for parents regarding test refusal. We did this because we recognized that a sensible, fair and child-centered set of protocols for those parents who chose not to have their child tested was in the best interest of all students.  

We also believed that clearly communicating those protocols in advance would avoid unnecessary confusion and misinformation as the testing dates approached. In providing a protocol, we were not endorsing a refusal to test. Rather, our goal was to minimize stress for children and families, enable our schools to plan appropriately for space and other logistical considerations on the days of testing, and to enhance the smooth implementation of the PARCC assessments, which we are legally required to administer.

We have provided below the current district data on the number of students whose parents have submitted letters asking that their child not take the PARCC assessments. Please note that these numbers are approximations, based on our ongoing internal reporting.

  • Grades 3-5: 45 of approximately 650 eligible students
  • Grades 6-8: 66 of approximately 720 eligible students
  • Grades 9-11: Approximately 800 of 1164 eligible students
The number of test refusals at the elementary level is relatively small and the reasons given were largely child-centered and specific.  Parents expressed concerns, for instance, about their child being new to the country or about their child's ability to manipulate the computer interface.

The explanation of the high number of test refusals at the high school is complex and contains a mixture of political, practical, and personal elements.  On the political level, Princeton arguably is the epicenter of the statewide debate over high-stakes testing, with a significant number of community members at the forefront of the opt-out movement. Teacher advocacy groups across the state have also viewed the test negatively based on concerns as to how the results may be used in the teacher evaluation process. Our students are keenly aware of and engaged in the current public debates surrounding the PARCC assessment.

On a practical level, the PARCC assessment, while mandatory, is not a hard and fast graduation requirement for those students currently in high school. They can also meet the requirement through scores on other standardized tests, such as the SAT or the ACT, which almost all of our students take. Another practical element is the timing of the test. It is being administered in March and April, before the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, which are given in May.  Students at Princeton High School take a combined total of more than 1,600 AP exams, and our students are very much aware that the results of those exams are considered carefully by colleges.

At the personal level, the students who made the decision with their families not to take the PARCC assessment did so based on a careful consideration of their individual needs and the competing pressures in their lives.  Most of our students are taking multiple Advanced Placement courses and are involved in athletics, choir, or any number of after-school clubs and activities. We respect their decision, as we respect the decisions of those students whose conscience called for them to sit for the PARCC assessment.

At this point in time, four bills related to PARCC are at various stages of voting and review by the N.J. state legislature. The PARCC test has become a flashpoint for debating the nature and role of assessments in our children's education, and the discussions in public forums are sure to continue for some time. The actions of our students, always a highly informed group, reflect the diversity of perspectives on this issue in our community and nationally.

Interestingly, one of the stated goals of the designers of the PARCC test is to assess our students' ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and to support their ideas and opinions with evidence.  We believe our students - those who took the test and those who did not - are demonstrating those skills in their robust discourse and thoughtful decisions.

As a district, we will continue to comply with our legal obligation to support the smooth implementation of the PARCC assessment. We are hopeful that the results, in time, will provide useful information that could help us enhance our programs and instruction for students. We will also continue to monitor the ongoing costs of our implementation of the PARCC assessment and the assessment's impact on other aspects of our students' learning experiences, in response to concerns raised by school board members and parents.

More importantly, we will also continue to place an emphasis on "measuring what matters" and on promoting those skills such as curiosity, creativity, and collaboration, which we know will help our students truly be successful in life.

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