Sorry for being on break for so long.
The following is testimony to the NJ Department of Education submitted by Montclair resident Lynn Fedele on June 3, 2015
I am here to speak today about the PARCC testing that we experienced this past year and to advocate for the state DOE to withdraw completely from this program.
There is no doubt that the country and the state are in a time of great flux and controversy in education. The reauthorization of the federal ESEA law is underway, and the proposed bill, which has passed out of the Senate committee with full bipartisan support and is expected to pass through the US Congress in the next few months, contains language that no longer requires the Common Core State Standards and their accompanying assessments. While the proposed bill does require yearly testing in the elementary school and once in high school, that it does not require the Pearson-generated PARCC is a step in the right direction, and New Jersey will be able to utilize its own tests, which can begin a return to some normalcy from what we experienced in the schools this past year with the PARCC.
There have been numerous stories of inappropriately difficult material, confusing directions, and technical difficulties circulating statewide since the first testing window in March. But these issues are merely the tip of the iceberg. Despite the Pearson-generated and oft-repeated propaganda about how PARCC will be easier for the schools to implement in comparison to other tests because of the length of the testing windows and the technological platform, actually administering the PARCC has been a terrible detriment to the education of our children. Stressful and time-consuming, the PARCC in practice has caused serious disruptions to learning.
While the high school students were tested on PARCC material for 11 hours this year, the actual time spent administering the test was much longer. Setting up the technology and allowing for proper procedures to be followed added close to an hour a day to the testing times listed by PARCC, and this was compounded by the frequent technology issues that ensued during test administration, which increased the time spent administering the assessments. As a result, as educators we’ve had to deal with rotating schedules, shortened schedules, and many shortened and cancelled classes.
All of this time has added up to equal a great deal of curriculum and class time loss for the students. Continuity has been, for far too many of us, completely shot. Depth of understanding has been sacrificed for broad overviews to quickly cover required material. Cooperative learning projects have been decreased and supplemental material has been frequently ignored no matter how much we know that these things increase student interest, involvement, understanding, and retention. Classroom strategies have been far too frequently changed from student-centered, student-directed activities that address multiple learning styles and foment the students’ abilities to make cross-curricular connections to lectures and a piling on of homework in the hopes that students can get at least the basics of a given topic.
This is a serious problem. According to the National Institute of Applied Behavioral Science*, students on average retain only 5% of the information presented through lecture and only 10% of the information presented through reading, yet these methods are becoming ever more the trend in instruction due to lost classroom time. Student-centered cooperative learning and project-based learning involve other, far more effective modes of information and skill acquisition and retention but are too demanding of rapidly shrinking classroom time. Group projects usually involve many strategies, including discussion groups, in which 50% of information is retained; practice by doing, in which 75% of information is retained; and teaching others, in which 90% of information is retained. In the rush to cover material that is forced upon us by the extraordinary time given over to the PARCC, our teaching is becoming less effective and less creative, and our students are retaining less and less information.
Additionally, in the crunch for time, important units of study have been shortened or sacrificed in their entirety. The following is a list of some of what has been short-changed, truncated or lost in just one school because of the time the PARCC has stolen from our classrooms and our students.
- Biology – 4 chapters of Ecology given very superficial coverage with no group work or projects
- Physics – Electromagnetic radiation was dropped and most labs and demonstrations were cancelled
- Chemistry – 3 chapters were shortened, including work on stoichiometry, and many labs and demonstrations were cancelled
- World History – 2 chapters covering the rise of totalitarianism and World War II have been reduced to partial coverage through lecture.
- S. History I – Support activities, group projects and supplemental materials were dropped
- Psychology – Child Development unit shortened and most projects dropped
- Medical Science – 3 chapters have been taught in the space normally allotted for 1 chapter with a great reduction in the depth of material and an increase in homework
- IT Applications – A unit about Linux dropped and non-Windows support (Mac, Android, tablets, etc.) was dropped
- Culinary Arts – The students suffered a loss of skills, practice, and continuity that was described as akin to a summer vacation, and then more time was lost in re-teaching skills.
- American Literature – “To Kill a Mockingbird” was dropped
- World Literature – “Things Fall Apart” was dropped
- AP English Literature and Composition – “The Things They Carried” was dropped
- Algebra I – Percentages and most word problems were dropped
- Algebra II – A unit on Quadratics was shortened and the review of monomials and exponents were dropped
- Pre-Calculus – Binomial theorem was dropped, as were Geometric and Arithmetic Progressions
- World Languages (French, Spanish) – Group projects and written assignments were shortened or dropped altogether
All that has been lost was included in our students’ education last year. Each teacher I have spoken with is distraught about this situation but at a loss for what to do. We know this is not good for education, and we know that our students are losing much of the solid understanding they will need in college and in life. We are losing the ability to help nurture children into becoming the interested, life-long learners and thinkers they ought to be.
We do not want to short-change our students. They deserve better. But with the PARCC consuming far too much time, we are being given no other choice, and our children are paying the price.