By Jay Eitner
My school district, Lower Alloways Creek, is located in Salem County — a rural, working class community that can sometimes feel a bit disconnected from the rest of New Jersey. While in many ways, we don’t enjoy the same opportunities to collaborate as other more centrally-located districts across the state, our community deeply values education and prides itself on our ability to keep pace with the rest of the state and maintain their local cultural heritage.
So naturally, when it came to transitioning to the new PARCC test, our approach was to tackle it head on. We began preparation about year ago and focused on integrating PARCC scenarios into the classroom that would familiarize kids with the testing style and environment. I’m not talking “teaching to the test.” Since PARCC is aligned with our state education standards, our teachers were already covering the concepts that students would be tested on. Where we did need to prepare, however, was ensuring that our students were comfortable with this different kind of assessment.
Overall, our preparation proved highly effective and, at the risk of sounding over the top, test rollout went splendidly. The flexibility with the PARCC testing schedule was the biggest improvement from previous statewide assessments and made the lives of us administrators significantly easier. The ability to set testing schedules so they are convenient for each class helps to minimize disruption. NJASK had set schedules which didn’t allow us to move things around to minimize testing time, but now, when a student finishes they have the opportunity to pursue other interests or if the whole class finishes, they can get back to teaching and learning.
The administration of the second PARCC testing window has been significantly smoother than the first for our district. We’ve had a chance to address some initial hiccups in administration, many of which we had anticipated, and we’ve seen confidence and comfortability with the new assessment swell. There appears to be far less hesitation from parents and our teachers and students are notably more at ease. From the perspective of a Superintendent, this shifting outlook is really promising because when it comes to testing, comfortable parents, teachers and students make all the difference.
Now we are eagerly looking forward to the data that the PARCC assessment will offer. The new score report should provide parents and teachers with information that is significantly easier to interpret as well as more applicable to the classroom. Beginning next year, PARCC score reports will provide nearly real-time feedback on the areas that each student needs to develop, allowing our teachers to pair this with other performance measures and support our kids where they need it most. For the first time, Lower Alloways Creek will be able to effectively compare performance across the state and country, helping us to ensure that our students, regardless of a rural New Jersey zip code, are on track to meet the demands of what lies ahead.
Jay Eitner is the superintendent of The Lower Alloways Creek School District.