Results from the inaugural PARCC standardized test showed continuing gaps in achievement along racial lines — one of the reasons that South Orange-Maplewood School District officials are saying that full participation in the test is important.
Although 22% of students in the district overall — and 67% of students in Columbia High School — opted out of the new PARCC assessment test in 2015, a South Orange-Maplewood district official said that participation is an important tool for the district to measure overall performance, curricular alignment and trends in the achievement gap and that the test will become a requirement for graduation in three or four years.
District Chief Information Officer Paul Roth made the statements during a presentation of a report on districtwide results of PARCC testing at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.
Overall, 60% of students in the South Orange-Maplewood School District who took the PARCC assessment test in spring 2015 met or exceeded expectations. However, Roth noted that the results showed serious achievement gaps of 22-55% depending on demographics and schools.
(See the PARCC presentation and discussion beginning at approximately 2:57:00 on the video here. See Roth’s slide presentation below.)
Roth cautioned that the PARCC results could not be compared to previous tests but did provide a new baseline from which progress can be measured going forward.
Roth noted issues with the state’s reporting of the results by schools — the state ascribed students’ results to their zoned schools and not necessarily the schools that they attended — causing “the biggest impact” on results for Seth Boyden as it is an opt-in demonstration school with many out-of-zone students attending. Roth noted this also caused issues results for English language learners who are sent to Clinton or Maplewood Middle schools. Roth said that this anomaly would be corrected for 2016.
Roth noted that district students in grades 3-9 tested higher than the state average, while students in grades 10-11 tested lower than state results, but said that those negative grade 10-11 results were “due to the high level of opt-outs … and was not representative of the student body. We do believe they would have been higher if all students or more had opted in.” Roth added that the district had anecdotal evidence from last year’s PSATs that would suggest that to be the case.
Roth said that the district had not yet received comparisons to its district factor group. He reported that the district should be receiving the “actual” answers students gave soon “so that we can do a detailed analysis. As that additional information becomes available, district staff will be looking at this in a little more detail.”
Roth defended the ongoing use of large-scale accountability assessment testing saying that such tools were “helpful in identifying general areas in need of improvement” and in framing questions such as: how can we use PARCC to identify strengths and weaknesses? how to use data to inform conversations with (not about) teachers? and what additional resources are needed to meet the learning needs of all students?
Board of Education member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad was concerned that the district do “proactive communication” to increase participation on the high school level. Board President Elizabeth Baker noted that students would be spending only one week on PARCC testing this year as opposed to the two weeks for each student last year.
When student board representative Nina Kambili asked what was the benefit for her to opt in, Roth said that — beyond being prepared to transition when it becomes a graduation requirement — participation in the test is important for “curricular alignment … to make sure that the way the curriculum is written, that it’s functioning.”
Earlier in the meeting, local parent and educator Elissa Malespina read a statement from the administrators of the South Orange-Maplewood Cares About Schools Facebook group asking the district to make opt-out information for district parents more transparent. Malespina questioned the reliability and validity of PARCC scores and asserted that there was a growing opt-out movement related to the test. Read Malespina’s statement here.
Malespina later shared Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos’ response to her statement. Ramos wrote that “families who wish to be exempted are asked to submit a letter to their principals. Principals, in turn, confirm receipt and honor the request.” However, Ramos said that although Malespina’s idea of “a form letter made available on the web sounds simple enough, I’m not sure it sends a message of encouragement.”
Ramos continued, “At this point, I am prepared to reinforce the process that we have in place to be sure that it works efficiently. Meanwhile, although families certainly have every right to opt out, we are obligated to encourage participation.”