Test Testimony

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

PARCC Testimony

Hello,

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.

Thank you,

Lynn Fedele

thelearning-pyramid

permalink: https://montclaireducationmatters.com/?p=337

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Montclair 250

Board of Education Meeting Comments 12/15/2014

The following comments were written and presented by members of Montclair 250, an organization of Montclair residents who work for the school district.

We are Montclair. We live here; we work here; we are parents of children who have or still are part of the Montclair school system that has always been a source of pride for our town. We are your neighbors, friends, and educators. As educators we say change is good, and there are many changes throughout the district that we would welcome.

The history of Montclair is steeped in the freedom to disagree yet still have a voice. It has always been part of the culture of this town and part of our respect for each other and our differing opinions. Lately, many voices of varying dissent are being silenced. This is not the norm for Montclair and we are not comfortable with this leadership that seems out of touch with what families want for their children’s education.

We are sad to say that it is our experience that members of this board and administration seem to have a need to separate people from one another: Principals from teachers, parents from teachers, and teachers from paraprofessionals. You have removed people from the agenda, ended a tradition of having teachers speak for their schools and have taken names out of order when calling people up to speak. We would never teach our students to jump ahead of line. Yet this is what is modeled at these meetings.

This kind of separation is attempted through breeding distrust. However, we, as a town, are all together – unified in whatever we agree and disagree about. It is the culture of this town: a culture that is more important than some may realize.

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Succeeding in separating groups of people cannot go very far when it is based upon the misinformation, disrespect and inconsistency that affects our students. The current administration and some members of this board are no longer trusted to be honest or respectful to others. Most important of all, they are not trusted to be concerned with the quality of education for all of our children. Instead, this board and administration continue to pass blame for any failings on past administrations, present employees and still attempt to set one group against another.

For example, at the last board meeting, after a round of public comments from many parents in this town who took the PARCC and were not pleased, the Board discussed this. Rather than listen to what the citizens of Montclair said, David Deutch stated This is simple economics. The PARCC is going to count in teachers evaluations. It gives them the incentive to be negative about it.

Let us be clear with you: the issues educators have with the PARCC are not based on the fact that we will be evaluated. Rather, it is that we have evaluated the PARCC, and find it developmentally inappropriate for each age group it covers, and of low quality. Much more important, is the stress it puts on our students, while offering no benefit to them or instructional direction for teachers.

Perhaps listening to the many parents and educators who have recently taken the PARCC and trying to work within a framework of compromise (at a minimum) instead of attacking educators would be more helpful. Those who work with students are the experts. It is time that all realize that how to educate is best left to the educators.

During a meeting at the Bradford school, between parents and teachers last March, Dr. MacCormack, discussed how 46 states were adopting the common core and how wonderful it was. A parent stood up and asked, “If the common core is so good, then why have several schools spoken out against it at the board meetings? Dr. MacCormack said Because its hard. She then went further and explained to the parents that it is difficult for teachers to change, that the common core is very different for them – its rigorous. Change is hard for the teachers. This same line has been given to parents at meetings theyve had with Gail Clarke. It has become the central offices mantra. One parent said that Gail Clarke made the common core so clear to her, and then followed up by stating that I know no one likes the extra work, but its good for our kids. Can you imagine anyone walking around stating Oh, they just dont like changeits too much work about people in other fields? Again, this is misinformation to separate the community and to continue abusing our childrens education: because all of this dishonesty, and micro-management of who says what to whom, and retribution or intimidation for speaking up is just that—abuse of our childrens education.

Lets step back to one of the first powerpoint presentations by Dr. MacCormack at a board meeting. Dr. MacCormacks data showed that the achievement gap was much wider in Montclair than previously thought. She showed that the previous administration (again, the blame sits elsewhere) did not include the socioeconomic data and said this is something she would not leave out. In the most recent presentation of data that included the achievement gap, she did just that. Data and budgets change seamlessly. Responsible approaches, collaboration, any transparency and honesty are lacking in this top-down, corporate model of management that is not working for education. It ends up reducing the role of the educators, excluding them from the planning and decision making in a way that decreases the ability to move our students forward.

Not one member has addressed the budget with any real transparency. In addressing the budget, this district recently reported that they ended the year with no deficit balances and no line item over expenditures. However, with all the money marked for technology, why did they have to take money from principals building budgets to fulfill their spending on technology? Forget deficits – where has a surplus that could have been used for students gone? Again, this is something that greatly affects our students.

Also stated in the district’s budget report was that as this district prepares for the development of the 2015-2016 budget, they continue to address increasing expenses in the areas of special education costs, utilities and employee health benefits. This district changed health insurance companies to save a vast amount of money. They muddled through this quickly, not researching CIGNA enough. Much quality has been lost. The CNA determined that Cigna denies roughly 39.6% of all claims (compared to competitors such as Aetna who denied about 5.9% of all claims in the same time frame.) The district did not research other companies, get bids on the insurance, or discuss it with the MEA. After handling this in so incorrect a manner to save money, we do wonder why employee health benefits is under the label of increasing costs.

More importantly, this district claims that special education costs are increasing. They certainly are. When the needs of our students are not met, parents will take their students elsewhere and our district and taxes will foot the bill. Out-of-district placement is up. In this administration’s short tenure legal fees have tripled from the $200,000’s to the $600,000’s. This upsets us greatly. We work hard to make a difference in our students’ lives even without the needed resources in materials and staffing. Our students are our neighbors and their parents our friends. By taking away materials and paraprofessionals, and worrying more about seeming to close a gap rather than really closing it, once again, the board and administration of this district have frayed the edges needed to help our next generation of students succeed.

The meetings held with parents early in this administrations tenure introduced the idea that the brightest and the best would be brought in. First of all, the insult inherent in that statement to all the existing staff is offensive. Many of the brightest and best have been here much longer than this administration and have helped thousands of students, both academically and emotionally, from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. So far, incorrect data, misleading statements, poorly thought out plans, and a lack in the ability to motivate, train, and advance educators is all we have seen. We are still waiting for the brightest and the best.

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Last year offered little professional development to teachers or paraprofessionals. Until late in the year, most of the Professional Development offered was a repeated overview of the Marshall Rubric. We are educators. As educators, we have dealt with a vast amount of rubrics in our careers. We could figure out the Marshall rubric. So after a year of this, Central Office decided to get back on the academic track. They offered specific Professional Development. This was offered with the promise of more. Gail Clarke specifically said that the Balanced Literacy Professional Development was geared more toward newer teachers, even calling it Professional Development 101, but would move forward from there. It has not moved forward.

Many of us have years of experience and a wealth of knowledge. We would like to go outside of district for more in-depth professional development. We are told nothe district provides it. We have to miss a day of teaching our students to come to these Professional Development sessions that do not offer growth. If the Professional Development is geared toward newer teachers, then why does the whole district have to lose teaching time and pay substitutes? Just as we differentiate our teaching for our students, we expect the district to be held to the same standard. It seems that our definition of Professional Development and our districts differ.

For example, high school history teachers were recently told to bring their students to the assembly for a meeting about Amistad. As the students entered, Davida Harewood, district supervisor for social studies, asked if any students would like to ask questions of the presenter afterwards. Students did raise their hands. Those students were handed pre-written questions to ask from Ms. Harewood. The Common Core demands higher analytical thought, yet our students are being taught to read someone else’s questions, putting their own thoughts aside. As students left the auditorium, Ms. Harewood told them to always question – make sure they question their teachers all the time. Professional Development should always model best practices. Later that day, all the teachers found Professional Development certificates in their mailboxes, from Central Office. Just for walking their students to the auditorium. Yet this district talks about raising the bar.

New Jerseys Department of Education states that the definition of professional development is one that is aligned with student learning, educator needs and embedded in educators daily work. It further states that that PD shall have as its primary focus the improvement of teachers and school leaders effectiveness in assisting all students to meet the Common Core Curriculum Standards.

Neither change nor rigor is hard for teachers. We change consistently and constantly to meet the needs of our students, not Central Offices need to have us teach to tests. Whatever anyones issues with the Common Core, lets understand that our Central Office has been doling out propaganda for Pearson Publishing and keeping the curriculum narrower and narrower so that we are teaching to a test. That is not what we do. We educate. There is a vast difference between teaching to a test and teaching our students to have a love of learning. Enriching the lives of our students is what matters. We are critical of the changes, not anxious about change. It is time that this difference is understood.

Permalink: https://montclaireducationmatters.com/2014/12/17/montclair-250/

Dissecting the PARCC Propaganda

By Lynn Fedele

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) website offers a vast array of information about this new, untried assessment system, and it is designed to sell the PARCC assessments to parents and educators on all levels. As the PARCC is tied to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the website does a good job of promoting those standards, too. Published within a handbook for “State and District Leaders” in implementing the PARCC and the CCSS is chapter 4, titled “Organize to Implement: Getting the Message Out.” It is a 14-page long public relations manual, replete with charts and graphs and all sorts of useful suggestions.

The Montclair Schools have had an interesting relationship with the notion and function of public relations over the past year, and this year Central Services has hired its own public relations professional. While Mr. Frankel is indeed busy in selling the notion that all changes coming from the state and through superintendent MacCormack are working wonderfully, the public relations efforts to support the CCSS and the PARCC go beyond one man’s effort and employment with the school district. A close look at the PARCC’s chapter on organizing public support is telling; while any public relations work needs to be tailored to local populations and concerns, there is a good deal in the handbook that resonates loudly and clearly here in Montclair.

So let’s take a look at what the PARCC suggests.

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The chapter begins this way:

“One risk faced by any change effort is ‘undercommunicating by a factor of 10, or even 100.’ The communications effort should receive the same amount of effort as the implementation effort.” While this may seem innocuous enough, the implementation effort includes redesigning curriculum, updating technology, ordering and adapting new materials, and accelerating the level of instruction (frequently beyond grade level). These efforts have taken countless hours, a lot of money, and have upended many of our classrooms, not necessarily for the better.  That public relations should take as much time and effort is troubling. There’s an old cliche, “A good idea sells itself.” This opening statement seems like an admission that this is not a good idea and that the community will take a lot of convincing to get on board.
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Their first suggestion? It’s the first section, “Build a Base of Support by Establishing a ‘Guiding Coalition.'”
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First, they address why this has to happen:
“Flagging public support can push implementation off the rails. Pressure to water down student expectations may build, for example, once new assessment results show that students are not as prepared as once believed.”
The students are being assessed by a system that is largely untried. They are being assessed on standards that are being found to be frequently developmentally inappropriate. It’s not a matter of our students being under-educated, or our schools being underdeveloped, or of our teachers not having high expectations for learning; it is a matter of the PARCC being an unfair test.  What PARCC characterizes as “pressure to water down student expectations” is the joined voices of teachers, parents, education specialists, and students themselves saying that curriculum and assessment need to be fair, to be developmentally appropriate, to be focused on creating skills for life-long learning; these are voices saying clearly that demanding too much too fast is damaging  to children.
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The section continues, “Inevitably, state and district leaders need help in keeping rigorous expectations for students at the heart of their agenda. Though the strategic implementation team (district administrative employees responsible for getting the schools ready to administer the test) plays a key role in supporting their agenda, a small group of highly visible and credible leaders are needed to sustain effort in the face of pushback.” This small group is, of course, the guiding coalition. Locally, who do we have to fit this bill? Will the SATPs be further co-opted? The Achievement Gap Panel? Members of the Board of Ed? Time will tell. Certainly, spending public tax money on a P.R. consultant will help, too.
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Of course, publicly disparaging those who oppose the CCSS and PARCC is part and parcel of local corporate-reform efforts. Teachers are speaking out? It’s all too easy to paint teachers as lazy or, in Dr. MacCormack’s words at a Board of Ed meeting last year, “afraid of change.” Parents are concerned? Members of Montclair Cares About Schools are “uncivil” or are a fringe group or are engaging in personal attacks. Of course teachers and parents want children to learn; it’s silly to think otherwise. But it’s also silly to think that by echoing the word “rigor” proponents of PARCC and CCSS are actually advocating what is best for students.
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But what is best for students is not the focus of the P.R. chapter, and what comes next is disconcerting. According to PARCC: “The role of this ‘guiding coalition’ is to remove bureaucratic barriers to change, exert influence at key moments to support implementation and offer counsel to the strategic implementation team.”  Many of the “barriers to change” are actual democratic structures put into place to keep the public schools accountable to the public. How much more quickly would Dr. MacCormack ‘s and the corporate reformers’ changes be in place if they were not open to public scrutiny? And upon whom should the guiding coalition “exert influence”? What kind of “influence” are they implying with this? The chapter does not clarify.
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What the chapter does clarify, though, is how to keep the propaganda manageable.  The handbook, in referencing pushback, states “The best way to ensure that this does not happen is to play offense — make sure your messages and goals reach key audiences first and are regularly reinforced by credible messengers. In fact, don’t be afraid to communicate even if your implementation plan is in flux.”  This need for constant top-down message communication, even in the midst of “flux,” could explain the discrepancies in information this year. For instance, parents were given a list of PARCC skills that are being covered in the middle schools while the middle school teachers were not informed of their responsibility to teach these skills. Parents and teachers have been told there will be no test prep. In fact, in her posting on the Montclair Board of Education website “Why PARCC,” Dr. MacCormack writes, “As superintendent, I set the tone for how these tests will be interpreted in the district, regardless of the State’s mandates, and I will not support teaching to the test.” Yet some schools are giving practice PARCC tests. One administrator told a roomful of parents that a paper version of the PARCC will be available while other administrators are saying this will not be. The district’s powerpoint presentation to parents about the PARCC contains discrepancies about the time it will take to administer the test.
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Yet there are other areas of manageability that the district seems to be adhering to quite well, in particular the simplicity of the overall message itself. The PARCC recommends developing and repeating “three key  messages” and instructs “Repeat, repeat, repeat these messages across all communication channels and by all public messengers.” They even give suggested messages, including:
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PARCC: “State standards and assessments have historically been set too low, offering an inaccurate view of how well our students are actually achieving.” (Dr. MacCormack paraphrased this at a Board of Ed meeting earlier this year, and in “Why PARCC” she writes “Problems with the NJ ASK were numerous. For one, NJ ASK was not well aligned with classroom instruction, and therefore many teachers spent time doing test preparation. Turnaround of test results was slow and provided few concrete insights into student learning.” This comes despite the fact that the New Jersey standards have been proven to be among the nation’s best.)
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PARCC: “The Common Core State Standards and aligned common assessments are more rigorous than what we have [had] in place… and will provide an honest picture of how well our students, schools and system are achieving on the most critical knowledge and skills.” (Data, anyone? Dr. MacCormack writes in “Why PARCC,” “In addition, data gathered from assessment tests can also guide educators toward improving classroom instruction and foster the sharing of best practices for teaching our students.This is the ideal, but for more than a decade, under the State of New Jersey’s NJ ASK testing program, the ideal has been too far out of reach.”)
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PARCC: “Implementing the Common Core State Standards is a critical step toward ensuring that all students receive the true education they need for success in life.” (Last year, Dr. MacCormack and several Board of Ed members touted the CCSS as a means of addressing the achievement gap. In “Why PARCC,” Dr. MacCormack writes, “the NJ ASK offered limited measures of a student’s critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, key indicators of a student’s future success.
PARCC assessments, on the other hand, are said to provide a more thorough examination of student development than prior tests, with more writing and greater focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”)
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What is happening in Montclair is part of a national agenda — PARCC even uses the word “agenda.”  They’ve published their playbook; we don’t have one. We can only speak the truth.
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Permalink: https://montclaireducationmatters.com/2014/12/14/dissecting-the-parcc-propaganda/

Board of Ed Public Comments 1

Board of Education Meeting Comments 11/17/2014

By Lynn Fedele

Central Services has been very busy lately trying to sell the benefits of the PARCC to the Montclair community. Having recently attended a PARCC workshop and having read Superintendent MacCormack’s newsletter, I find the process of promoting the PARCC to be fraught with unknowns and inconsistencies that reveal Central Services’ support for the new, untried, untested PARCC to be deeply problematic.

At the recent middle school PARCC presentation, Ms. Gail Clark answered “We don’t know” to questions at times, and I appreciate her honesty. What was troubling was the frequency of that answer because “We don’t know” came in response to questions about how the PARCC is developed and scored.

I do not blame Ms. Clark for these non-answers, as frequently on the PARCC website itself, they admit to not knowing some very important things about their own tests. For instance, how are they graded?: “PARCC is exploring a hybrid approach to scoring that includes scoring by both machines and humans.” In other words, they don’t know. In response to what kind of data teachers will receive, PARCC says “the PARCC states are working to develop detailed descriptors.”  They’re working on it. They do not know.

Yet data is one of Central Services’ key selling points. In Dr. MacCormack’s newsletter titled “Why PARCC?” she states that these assessments “are said to provide a more thorough examination of student development than prior tests.” They are “said to.” By whom? On what basis? These assessments have never been given and have no published cut score. Adding to the questionable status of future data is the tests’ structure, as seen in the PARCC’s test blueprints on their website. While there is more writing, there are fewer questions, which weakens their reliability in statistical analysis. Additionally, many questions cover more than one standard. For instance, in the grades 3-5 ELA test, the 3rd task has 5 multiple choice questions* that cover “any combination of standards 1,2,3,5,7,9.” That’s 5 questions, 6 standards. So there’s overlap. In fact, according to the blueprints, almost all ELA and many math test items cover more than one standard, with some covering 5 or 6 standards. If a student gets a question wrong, how can anyone know which standard or standards the student is not meeting? We don’t know.

In essence, in addition to many other concerns surrounding the PARCC, the basic idea that we will have better data is unfounded. Our district must implement PARCC as it is a state mandate; to do so unquestioningly would be foolish; to do so enthusiastically borders on propaganda. Adopting the CCSS and the PARCC at the state level was a political decision. At the local level, it is incumbent upon all parents and educators to protect children and their interests. There should never be blind support for an untried, ambiguous program about which there is so much that we don’t know.

*PARCC does not use the term “multiple choice.” These questions are labeled Evidence-Based Selected Responses and Technology Enhanced Constructed Responses.

permalink:https://montclaireducationmatters.com/2014/11/18/board-of-ed-meeting-comments/

PARCC: Pearson’s Weapon of Choice

By John Wodnick

For over twenty years, I’ve taught high school English, and I’ve always tried to make my classroom a place where students might experience the joy of intellectual exploration and discovery.  I teach literature because I have felt the transformative power of great novels, plays and poems on my own consciousness, and I’m eager to give young students that same inspiring experience.  Such experiences are slowly but surely being rooted out of our current educational system, mainly because they’re difficult to measure, and the PARCC is just the latest and most potent weapon yet designed to eliminate them, mainly because they can’t be monetized.

 

Taking the PARCC on Sunday here in Montclair in the company of many other thoughtful adults, I experienced the confining and artificial nature of trying to read literature closely in the context of standardized multiple-choice testing.  What I figured out in the course of this experience is that the PARCC’s main value is to create more market share for itself.  It certainly isn’t to inspire in students any great love of literature, or to get them to think very deeply about the world they live in.  This is because it is a measurement tool, and not an educational tool, and the manic desire to measure every aspect of learning is, sadly and ironically, depriving students of much of what makes learning valuable.

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This mania for measurement has political and economic consequences, as well as educational ones.  The more we measure a school’s success by its standardized test scores, the more we disempower the community that school serves, disempower the educators serving that community, and ultimately, harm the students we’re trying to serve.  Measuring educational success through test scores is anti-democratic, and anti-student, and anti-parent.  It fosters an attitude of distrust between administrators and teachers and pushes all decision-making authority upwards towards a centralized power, often one that resides outside the district.  You can read heartbreaking stories about how this process is playing out in Newark by reading Bob Braun’s Ledger, or by following the facebook page of the Newark Students’ Union, or even by reading the national coverage the situation in Newark recently received on salon.com.

 

Those at the top of the power structure these tests help to preserve use many strategies to maintain their authority.  Questions are perceived as threats, and these threats are eliminated insidiously, by reframing the debate in ways that marginalize them.  Skeptics about the value of standardized tests are labeled as being against academic rigor.  Those who wish to maintain democratic control over their local districts are dismissed as rabble-rousing radicals.  Marketers learned these tricks long ago; politicians understand them.  They are very powerful and very effective– they just aren’t all that worthwhile if your goal is to create profound learning experiences that make great classrooms and great teachers memorable to real individual students.  In seeking to root out mostly mythical bad teachers, those who use tests to control education are also rooting out greatness, risk-taking, adventure, and the inspiring experience of discovery.  They are enforcing mediocrity for the sake of making outcomes easy to measure.  Tests imposed from above are self-perpetuating and self-justifying devices of social control.  Why must we test?  Because we need to make sure students are doing well on tests.  This is not education.  But it does ensure that gullible districts who think that only measurable outcomes matter will become great customers for the makers of the PARCC.

 

Don’t believe that this is about profits?  Don’t take it from me– here’s Glen Moreno, Chairman of Pearson, quoted directly from Pearson’s own 2013 annual report: “As the world’s leading learning company we are in an increasingly strong position to take advantage of this demand and deliver products and services that measurably improve learning outcomes for our customers and learners. I am also confident that this will positively impact shareholder value.” Measurably improving learning outcomes means testing testing testing, and that means positively impacting shareholder value.

 

Ultimately, what the designers of the PARCC are proposing is to replace many hours of valuable class time with many hours of oppressive testing.  They are eliminating countless hours where students might be encouraged to confront deep questions about their own existence or discuss with peers the social and political issues raised by the literature they’re grappling with together, and replacing them not only with hours spent on the tests themselves, but also hours spent on preparations for those tests.  This deprives students of crucial educational experiences, and makes it more and more difficult to teach them well.

 

PARCC does this by seeking to narrowly redefine educational success for all classrooms and all districts as success on this one test.  Teachers who wish to inspire, to connect, to move their students forward in terms of their relationships with their communities and their understanding of their place in the universe are looked on with suspicion while those who can develop flashy ways to drill students into mastery of relatively simple skills are lionized.  What does not immediately and obviously improve test scores is scrutinized, while any classroom activity that serves those scores is glorified.  We have to ask– who is served by this?  Are students served by this, or are the test-makers?  Jersey Jazzman, a favorite blogger of mine, has a pretty thorough answer here.

 

So, if students’ mastery of PARCC-imposed skills is not a true measure of a successful school, or a successful education, what is?  Schools that are truly democratic in nature help students imagine a better future not only for themselves but for their larger community, and the education they offer favors critical engagement and inspiration.  A powerful democratic education involves experiences of discovery in collaboration with classmates, a celebration of creativity and insight achieved through the mastery of coherent subjects explored and examined with autonomous, trusted and energized mentor teachers.  Contrast this vision with the world imagined by PARCC, which favors the mastery of discrete skills through constant individualized monitoring and submission to a testing regime it is uncivil to question, where success has only one measure– what is your number?

 

Which is the sort of education you want for your child?  Which do you think a curriculum driven by testing will achieve?

https://montclaireducationmatters.com/2014/11/13/parcc-pearsons-weapon-of-choice/

Delran EA Knocks it Out of the PARCC!

The Delran Education Association has published a phenomenal statement about their opposition to standardized testing and the damages that are being wrought upon the New Jersey public schools. From an analysis of why they oppose high stakes testing, to a history of the testing movement, to the negative effects this has on students and teachers, their annotated statement covers all the bases eloquently and forcefully.

Read the full statement here:

https://teacherbiz.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-delran-education-associations-position-on-high-stakes-standardized-testing/

(November 11, 2014)

We applaud these brave teachers for making so bold and so necessary a public statement!

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