Despite low high school participation rate, Cherry Hill students score high on 2015 PARCC test

Cherry Hill students who participated in last year’s inaugural Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment had more success than many of their peers in New Jersey.

The Cherry Hill school district presented data from the 2015 PARCC test during an information session at Cherry Hill High School West last Tuesday. Test scores showed Cherry Hill had a higher percentage of students meet or exceed expectations than the state average in all grades, three to 11, and in both math and English/language arts.

The data also revealed how many students completed last year’s test. The participation number ranged from a high 86 percent participation rate for students in grades three to five, to an extremely low rate of a little more than 25 percent for high school students. Students in grade 11 really drove down the school district’s high school participation rate. Only 11 percent of high school juniors participated in the PARCC test last year.

Superintendent Joe Meloche acknowledged the very low participation rate at the high school level, saying there wasn’t any one reason why so many students refused the test.

“There’s lot of anecdotal stories from students and parents about whether it was a moral objection to testing, whether it was about missing class time, whether it was about ‘my friends aren’t taking it,’” Meloche said. “All across the country, it just became a social wave.”

One of the issues Cherry Hill has run into with the low high school participation rate is the small sample size it received from the score report. Valerie Sadwin, the research and assessment coordinator for the school district, noted too few students took the test to allow the scores to be used as an effective analytical tool.

“I don’t think there is a meaningful way to interpret them,” she said.

Meloche said the district is hoping to boost participation this year, especially at the high school level.

“We’re looking at how the assessment periods are being scheduled — what are we doing with the time, how are we publicizing information,” he said. “We’re really just trying to get the information out about what it is.”

The release of the 2015 PARCC data came much later than the district originally expected. Director of curriculum Farrah Mahan said the PARCC governing board needed to set new cut scores and performance levels for this year’s test. As a result, the district did not receive scores at the high school level until Dec. 4. Middle and elementary school scores did not come in until Dec. 18.

The performance levels for PARCC are very different than the old NJASK assessment. While NJASK only had three performance levels — partially proficient, proficient and advanced proficient — the PARCC report has five. With PARCC, a student’s score falls under did not yet meet expectations, partially met expectations, approached expectations, met expectations and exceeded expectations.

In Cherry Hill, every grade level had more than half of its students score either at the met or exceeded expectations in language arts. Math scores were a little lower at some grade levels. In seventh grade, only 44 percent of students met or exceeded expectations. Only 41 percent of eighth-grade students performed at those levels in math. Both numbers were still 7 percent above the state average.

Mahan said parents should not compare their child’s 2015 PARCC scores with scores from previous standardized tests, saying PARCC will set a new baseline for all students.

“We’re starting over,” she said.

All parents received a score report regardless of whether their child participated in PARCC. The district sent home a mock score report for students who did not complete the test.

“We wanted all parents, whether your child took the test or not, to see what the score report looked like,” Mahan said.

Students will be diving back into PARCC this April. There is one major difference with the test this year, as students will be testing in one session. Students in grades three to eight will test from April 14 to May 13. High school testing will take place April 11 to May 20. Last year, students had a performances-based assessment in March and an end-of-year assessment in May.

Meloche said the school district won’t be making any major changes to how it administers the test this year. The only big change will come with the high school schedule.

“We’re still looking at the high school schedule with how it’s actually going to roll out, what are periods going to look like, what will their day look like,” Meloche said. “Elementary and middle will be pretty consistent with what it was last year. We’ll see if we can do the high school better than what it was.”