Coalition to work for better state tests

Opinion and Pledge by NJ PTA President Debbie Tyrell in the Asbury Park Press

03/02/15

 New Jersey students are among the most successful in the country. But there is an increasing awareness that too many children leave our schools unprepared for the demands of today's colleges and careers. In 2010, New Jersey adopted higher quality academic standards to align classroom expectations with the skills students need to succeed.

Now, our teachers and students are transitioning to new statewide assessments aligned to these high quality academic standards. These are designed to be the most effective statewide assessments New Jersey has ever had. Many New Jersey educators have partnered with hundreds of educators from around the country to design and build the questions that are in these new assessments.

Recognizing that new tests can be a source of apprehension and even misinformation, a broad coalition of organizations, We Raise NJ, has formed to support parents and educators as they help our children during this important transition.

Members of the coalition, which is led by the New Jersey PTA, are the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, New Jersey Council of County Colleges, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Garden State Coalition of Schools, JerseyCan, New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and the New Jersey School Boards Association.

The coalition and the New Jersey Department of Education recently announced a pledge that outlines their commitment toward better assessments that align with high quality academic standards. The seven principles of the pledge call for smarter, more effective statewide testing as well as the support needed to realize that goal.

The pledge:

1. We recognize that students are more than their test results and respect teachers' and families' responsibility to make academic decisions for students based on all information available to assist them.

2. We are committed to fair and meaningful assessments that are aligned to the academic skills all students will need to succeed in school, in college or in the workforce.

3. We are committed to assessments that provide parents with information about student progress that is more meaningful and easier to understand than in the past.

4. We will help teachers and school leaders understand how to use information from the new assessments to improve classroom instruction and to identify and address gaps in achievement.

5. We support the use of technology to administer these assessments whenever possible in order to provide results quickly and to expand opportunities to use technology in the classroom.

6. We are committed to the secure management of student data in compliance with all state and federal regulations that have been created to protect student privacy.

7. We are committed to resolving any problems that arise with the new assessments in a collaborative and constructive way to meet the needs of New Jersey students, parents and educators.

The We Raise NJ coalition took a step to carry out the principles of the pledge when it launched Best Foot Forward. The initiative addresses the growing number of questions from parents about the PARCC assessments and helps parents make informed decisions about how to best support their children during testing season. In addition to the resources on the website, the initiative features weekly text messages, a blog and a brief video — all of which provide parents important information during testing season.

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We encourage all parents across New Jersey to use Best Foot Forward's resources and participate in an ongoing dialogue about providing our students with the best possible preparation for the future.

Debbie Tyrell is president of the New Jersey PTA.

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