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CBS2 Exclusive: N.J. Education Chief Says Controversial Exam Is Good For Students

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Some New Jersey parents have come out so strongly against a new computer-based math and language arts test that they have refused to allow their children to take the exam – but state education officials have rushed to its defense.

As CBS2's Christine Sloan reported Tuesday, the state's largest teachers' union is also against the exam -- called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – PARCC for short.

But New Jersey state Education Commissioner David Hespe said the students will benefit from being challenged by the exams.

"I'm saying these are going to be challenging tests, because nothing comes easy in life," Hespe said.

He said the exams are necessary to measure student performance at an early age.

"We estimate over half of our students are currently graduating without the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college or in careers," Hespe said.

Many students said online practice exams for grades three to 11 were excessively difficult.

Jesse Felder-Pfaff, 10, is a straight-A student in the Clifton School District. He said late last month that he will take a stand against the test when he is confronted with it.

"I know that you can refuse, and my mom and dad don't want me taking it, so I'm not going to take it." Jesse said.

Some students said not only did they fail to understand the test, but they were also having computer issues.

To that, Hespe responded: "Well, students at a young age to need to start understanding how computers work. We did a field test using computers last spring. Children took to it very well."

The New Jersey Education Association is opposed to the PARCC test, saying it will also be used to evaluate English and math teachers and expressing concern that it could be used to punish them.

"Teachers should be evaluated, but it should be used to improve instruction, not be used as punitive gotchas," said New Jersey Education Association Wendell Steinhauer.

But Hespe insisted the exams will not punish teachers at all – especially in those districts where student performance is low, and only count as 10 percent of an evaluation.

"I think most teachers want to demonstrate that they are at the head of their class," Hespe said.

Even so, the teachers' union said it plans on flooding the airwaves with commercials in hopes of stopping the PARCC exams.

The union said as many as 70 percent of school districts are giving notice to parents that their children may refuse the test. Hespe said for now, the tests will not be used as a requirement for high school graduation, but that could change after 2019.

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