New Jersey's largest teachers' union launched a six-week television and online advertising campaign Tuesday featuring parents and teachers voicing their concerns about a controversial standardized test soon to be administered statewide.
With the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) about to be presented to students in grades three through 11 starting March 1, the ads criticize standardized tests as causing stress in children, narrowing education, and taking time and resources from other subjects and programs.
"Parents are fed up, and they're ready to speak up," said Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). "This ad campaign gives parents and teachers a voice in a debate that's been dominated for too long by people with no connection to what's really happening in classrooms today."
At the end of the 30-second ads, viewers are invited to visit njkidsandfamilies.org, a website created by the NJEA. It contains information about standardized tests and allows viewers to sample PARCC questions and to download anti-PARCC material.
It also invites viewers to post letters asking state legislators to support three PARCC-limiting bills, including one that would make it easier to refuse to take standardized tests.
New Jersey has no legal provision for students to opt out of such tests, but the ranks of parents refusing to let their children take the PARCC have been growing as the test draws near.
PARCC proponents say the test, which is aligned with the Common Core curriculum standards, will help improve instruction and give more detailed information about how students are progressing. They say the test will help high school graduates become college- and career-ready.
PARCC's critics say the test is too long, too expensive, cumbersome, confusing, and not appropriate to the grade and developmental levels of its takers. Preparing for the test, they say, comes at the expense of other instruction.
Many believe students, at least initially, will score lower on PARCC, which is seen as more rigorous than the tests it is replacing. The test is designed to become a graduation requirement and a measure of teacher performance.
In the fall, the NJEA conducted focus groups of parents who shared concerns about PARCC and standardized testing, according to Steve Wollmer, a union spokesman.
Last month, the union released the results of a poll that found that a majority of parents and voters believed the state put too much emphasis on standardized tests. Most of those polled said they favored reducing the amount of testing.
While the NJEA's campaign is openly anti-PARCC, a coalition of education groups - several of which are pro-PARCC - also is planning an informational effort.
We Raise NJ, organized by the New Jersey PTA, includes the New Jersey Association of School Administrators; the New Jersey School Boards Association; the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association; the New Jersey Council of County Colleges; the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce; and JerseyCAN (the New Jersey Campaign for Achievement Now), a group working to close student-achievement gaps.
The coalition's stated purpose is to provide objective information, tools, and resources during the state's transition to the new test.
"Parents understandably have many questions about the PARCC assessments," said Debbie Tyrrell, state PTA president, "and we think it's essential to address all of them by helping parents understand what to expect."