Technical glitch latest issue with controversial PARCC testing

27 Apr 2016 | 12:30

    BY ERIKA NORTON
    Students at schools across New Jersey stared at blank screens on April 20 due to a technical error during the state PARCC exams, causing many schools to postpone testing.
    Pearson, the company that creates the tests administered via computers, has taken the blame for the log-in issues, citing “a technical glitch introduced by a Pearson employee — not a problem with server capacity or the student testing system.”
    “Pearson is truly sorry for an issue this morning that caused a disruption for New Jersey families and their students and resulted in the cancellation of PARCC testing today in many school districts,” said Pearson Vice President of Media and Communities Laura Howe. “We know that students and teachers have put in a tremendous amount of work to master the high academic standards set forth in New Jersey, and they deserve a smooth testing experience.”
    By 5 p.m. on April 20, Pearson had assured the New Jersey Department of Education that their error had been resolved, according to NJDOE Press Secretary David Saenz Jr., and that schools could test the following day with confidence. Before the issue that Wednesday, PARCC had been administered for two and half weeks with no major issues, Saenz Jr. said, and since those issues on that one day, PARCC has gone smoothly with no other issues he is aware of.
    In light of these testing delays, the NJDOE has offered additional time as needed to school districts, according to Stanhope Superintendent Timothy Nicinski. A district simply needs to contact the state to coordinate the extended time window through Pearson, he said.

    Schools affected
    Due to the error, many schools were forced to postpone that day’s testing. The financial burden of the glitch on school districts is unclear at this point, but many districts hire substitute teachers to assist with the mandated testing, and will now have the added expense of additional testing days.
    Aside from being frustrating, the error does not seem to have affected school’s testing schedules too much.
    In the Franklin schools, the PARCC testing computers went down on Wednesday, according to Superintendent Thomas Turner, but testing resumed the following Thursday. The PARCC assessments resumed this week as well, and were completed Monday, with the exception of a few make-up tests.
    The Stanhope School district was one of the districts affected by the glitch as well, according to Nicinski, causing The Valley Road School to be unable to participate in PARCC testing that day. The window for standardized testing extends into mid-May, Nicinski said, which provides for situations like this in the preparing of the overall testing system.
    “Presently, Stanhope School district does not appear to need time beyond the end of April,” he said. “Because our students benefit from one to one Chromebook assignments, we were able to test in the afternoon to make up the missed sections.”
    The Sparta schools were lucky, according to Assistant Superintendent Daniel Johnson, because while the outage did affect the district, it occurred during make-up testing, so only a handful of students were affected. The Vernon Township School district was one of the rare districts that was able to get in the full day of PARCC testing, according to Superintendent Art Dibenedetto. He attributes this to the district’s “excellent tech staff.”
    Other school districts that were affected include Byram Township, Andover Regional and West Milford Township in Passaic County. Lenape Valley Regional High School was not affected.
    ‘Holding Pearson accountable’
    The NJDOE has vowed to perform a full performance review of Person’s performance in response to the PARCC testing glitch.
    “We will take steps to determine the impact on school districts of Pearson’s failures,” New Jersey Commissioner David C. Hespe said on Thursday. “The Department fully intends to hold Pearson accountable once the review is completed.”
    PARCC, Inc. also released a statement, calling the testing errors “unacceptable.” Pearson has stated that they are correcting the issue and is working to ensure it does not happen again.
    Added controversy
    With this being the second year of PARCC testing in New Jersey, the NJDOE has made a series of improvements to the tests, according to their website. The improvements include the tests being 90 minutes shorter, fewer test questions and flexible scheduling, which they say will help districts complete testing in two weeks or less.
    However, these improvements are not enough for the New Jersey Education Association. Combined with the recent computer glitch, the NJEA said in a statement that PARCC is not right for New Jersey students.
    “The technology breakdown that swept through districts across the state will hurt our students most,” said NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer. “Today’s technology failure only added more disorder to already disrupted schedules for students throughout New Jersey. Unnecessary testing is taking up valuable time that could be spent on teaching and learning.
    “Parents and educators alike have continually expressed their outrage over PARCC. Today’s events lend further credence to their outrage. This overemphasis on test scores has to stop.”
    The majority of parents had their child take the PARCC exams last year, according to the NJDOE, “because they understood the benefits.” However, the NJDOE does acknowledge that neither federal nor state law provides parents with an option regarding participation in tests, however, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 95 percent of all students in grades three through eight must be tested annually.
    If schools don’t meet this standard, a “corrective action plan” is implemented.
    Such was the case in West Milford, where a corrective action plan was put in place due to less than 95 percent of students participating in PARCC testing last year. The plan aimed to identify the root cause of the low PARCC participation, dispel rumors and false information, listen to parent concerns, and increase communication of the test expectations and benefits of the testing.
    According to Superintendent Anthony Riscica, while there were some refusals, refusal number were significantly less this year.
    The tests are also not a requirement for graduation this year, but for those graduating in 2020 will need to pass PARCC to graduate. In addition, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges announced that its members plan to use PARCC scores as one of their placement tools.