Parent groups speak out on Senator Teresa Ruiz’s refusal to protect our children

A coalition of grassroots parent groups fighting for high-quality public education is asking New Jersey Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz to allow a vote on three very important bills that limit standardized testing – S2765, S2767 and S2768.

“These bills have incredible support,” said Julie Larrea Borst, a parent from Allendale. “All three bills were overwhelmingly approved by the New Jersey Assembly, with two receiving unanimous approval.”

Tens of thousands of parents and other voters have asked their legislators to support the bills. In fact, 3,500 constituents contacted their State Senators in just one weekend.

A bi-partisan majority of the Senate has committed to vote YES on the bills and more than a quarter of the State’s Senators are co-sponsoring them.

New Jersey parents are taking this action because, despite the incredible levels of support, Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz has so far refused to post the three bills for a vote in the Senate Education Committee.

Instead of allowing a vote on S2765, which requires districts and charter schools to inform parents about all standardized tests given to their children, Senator Ruiz introduced a stripped down version of that bill. Senator Ruiz’s version denies parents the right to know how their children’s standardized test results are used, whether the tests must be taken on a computer or with paper and pencil, and how much the tests cost. “We have a right to that information as parents and taxpayers,” argued Sarah Blaine of Montclair. “Why would anyone want to hide it from us?”

Senator Ruiz also has refused to allow a vote on S2767, which protects children from “sit & stare” and other punitive measures imposed by school districts and charter schools when their families refuse standardized tests. In place of S2767, Senator Ruiz introduced a nonbinding resolution asking the NJ Department of Education to develop guidelines for how districts should treat such students.

“The NJ Senate should not be pleading with the Commissioner of Education to protect our children,” said Jacklyn Brown of Manalapan. “They should follow the NJ Assembly and pass S2767, ensuring that our children are not being mistreated.”

Renee Simon Wagner of Hope Township agreed. “S2767 is common sense and very much needed,” said Ms. Wagner, whose 13 year old daughter was forced to sit and stare for the duration of the March PARCC test and the week of make-up testing. “That kind of child abuse has no place in our public schools. Why won’t Senator Ruiz allow a vote on S2767?”

Christina Cunha-Moreira of Elizabeth was very concerned by Senator Ruiz’s refusal to allow a vote on S2768, which freezes the use of PARCC scores for three years. “The PARCC tests are brand new and may not be reliable or valid,” said Cunha-Moreira. “Yet, without this legislation, districts and charter schools will be able to use results of the experimental PARCC tests to make decisions about class placements, admission to gifted and talented and remedial programs, and even whether children receive special services. We need S2768 to keep our children safe.”

Frankie Adao of Newark spoke for tens of thousands of parents in urging Senator Ruiz to “please allow these bills to have a vote. We want our democracy to work,” said Adao.

Below is a list of New Jersey parent groups that signed on to this statement:

Allendale Parents of Children with Special Needs
Bernards Cares About Schools
Chatham Cares About Schools
Collingswood Cares About Education
Community for Princeton Public Schools
Concerned Citizens of Southern New Jersey
East Brunswick Parents Against PARCC
Elizabeth Parents and Students Care
Freehold Township Cares About Schools
Hanover-Florham Park Cares About Schools
Highland Park Cares About Schools
Howell Cares About Schools
Jackson Cares About Schools
Lawrence Cares About Schools
Manalapan-Englishtown Cares About Schools
Marlboro Cares About Schools
Metuchen Cares About Schools
Middletown Township Cares About Schools
Monroe Township/Jamesburg Cares About Schools
Montclair Cares About Schools
Mount Laurel Cares About Schools
Neptune Cares About Schools
Newark Parents Union
No More Common Core – Moorestown
North Plainfield Cares About Schools
Ocean County Parents Against Common Core
Ocean Township (Monmouth County) Cares About Schools
Red Bank Area Cares About Schools
Ridgewood Cares About Schools
Save Camden Public Schools
Save Our Schools NJ
South Brunswick Cares About Schools
Toms River Cares About Schools
Verona Cares About Schools
West Windsor – Plainsboro Cares About Our Schools
Westfield Cares About Schools


This statement appears on the Save Our Schools New Jersey Facebook page. Any groups interested in signing the statement should send an email to info@saveourschoolsnj.org.

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@NJSenatePres: Post ALL FOUR testing bills for a vote

In early February, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan said, “This is my 14th year in the Legislature and I’ve served virtually all that time on the Education Committee and I have never in all of my time in the Legislature had more concern about a particular topic than I have had from PARCC.”

That’s because in recent months, parents, students, and educators all over the state have been pushing back against an over-reliance on the Common Core-aligned tests that are dominating the national educational landscape. Hundreds have testified at Study Commission meetings and State Board of Education meetings, thousands have called legislators and written letters in opposition to PARCC tests, tens of thousands have taken to social media to make themselves heard about the issues children in public schools are facing right now, and an estimated 50,000 students sat out of the first round of PARCC testing.

With so much public outcry about PARCC, one would think that NJ Senate President Stephen Sweeney would be quick to post the four testing bills that sailed through the NJ Assembly last month for votes in the Senate. After all, it’s clear that a significant percentage of Sweeney’s constituents are begging for legislation to protect New Jersey’s children from what they know is bad educational policy.

But yesterday, Sweeney and Senate Ed. Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz wrote a letter to David Hespe asking the Commissioner to maintain–instead of increase–the percentage standardized test scores count toward eligible teachers’ evaluations next year: just one issue that’s addressed in S2768/A4190, which freezes ALL uses of PARCC results for 3 years.

Sweeney and Ruiz promote their request as a “measured approach to policy,” and note that “teachers are the most important individuals when it comes to a child’s educational experience”–so a delay in increasing the stakes attached to this test for teachers would be a “responsible approach.” 

On the surface, the request reads as a veiled acknowledgement of the many problems associated with PARCC testing, and the Senators’ proposed solution to avoid increasing the stakes for teachers is an important step since using standardized test scores as a part of teacher evaluations is an awful practice. However, the Senators’ request fails to acknowledge the impact PARCC testing has on students and their schools–a deliberate oversight that certainly won’t go unnoticed by the tens of thousands of parents who showed their dissatisfaction with PARCC tests by refusing to allow their children to participate in them this year.

So why not just post S2768, which the Assembly overwhelming approved in February, for a vote in the Senate–instead of dismantling it to avoid the legislative process in the name of backroom deals?

The short answer: politics.

The longer answer: politics.

Some background:

Last year, Sweeney blocked a vote on A3081/S2541, legislation similar to S2768, which sought to “delay implementation of certain assessments and certain changes to teacher evaluation”–presumably to avoid putting Governor Christie in a position to veto it. The result was Executive Order #159, which made changes to the TeachNJ teacher evaluation component and established the Study Commission that doesn’t listen to anyone that’s charged with evaluating the use of assessments in NJ. Many people–parents and educators alike–criticized Sweeney for his failure to post the bill for a vote, primarily because Executive Order #159 largely ignored the implications of testing on students and schools in the name of politics. 

And in March of this year, when Sweeney said he would’t post four new testing bills (which would go on to be passed overwhelmingly by the Assembly) for a vote in the Senate until he checked first with Commissioner Hespe:

“What I’ve been reading is that (the testing) has been a relative non-event compared to all the hype at this point,” Sweeney said. “I want to know what the commissioner says, and we’ll make a decision. Maybe it is the right thing to do, but I want to get that from the commissioner.”

Yes, the Commissioner Hespe who walked out of a Study Commission meeting that dozens of parents missed work to attend. Yes, the Commissioner Hespe who claimed we need PARCC tests because they’re “diagnostic”–even though his assistant commissioner, Bari Erlichson, acknowledged they’re not. Yes, the Commissioner Hespe who claims that PARCC tests will provide teachers and parents with valuable data–even though the tests are instructionally useless.

But I digress.

Last time I checked, a legislator’s job was to represent and answer to his constituents–and in this case, Sweeney’s constituents have certainly spoken.  How can Senator Sweeney, in good conscience, claim testing has been a “non-event” and allow his own political motivations to interfere with the legislative process he’s been elected to facilitate?

It seems that politicians and others not directly associated with education still believe, despite evidence that overwhelmingly indicates otherwise, that test resistance is only about teacher evaluation: a belief that is inherently insulting to the parents who are working so hard to fight reforms that they know to be bad for their children. (NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer acknowledged as much in the following statement.)

“NJEA appreciates Senator Sweeney’s and Senator Ruiz’s acknowledgment that the stakes for PARCC should not be raised next year. However, we still strongly support legislation placing a moratorium on all use of PARCC results for at least three years. Parents and educators alike are clearly very troubled by PARCC, and for good reason. We call on the Senate to pass all four bipartisan PARCC bills that have already passed the Assembly by overwhelming margins. Parents, students and educators deserve to know that legislators have heard them and are willing to act on their behalf. Passing those four bills is an important first step.”

Is the Sweeney/Ruiz proposition to Hespe an attempt to appease teachers in the hopes that they’ll stop voicing concerns about PARCC testing? Is it an attempt to cause a rift between educators and parents, who are working together to fight damaging education “reforms”? Is it Sweeney’s attempt–again–to save Governor Christie from having to veto the bill?

Either way, anyone who values the legislative process in New Jersey should call Senator Sweeney and demand that all four testing bills be posted for a vote. Because how can the State’s senators represent their constituents if they’re not given the opportunity to do so?


Here are links to and explanations of the four testing bills–and a link to contact legislators in support of the bills–from the Save Our Schools NJ website:

S2767/A4165 Protects students from “sit & stare” and other punitive measures imposed when their families refuse high-stakes standardized tests. A4165 was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly on March 26, 2015.

S2768/A4190 Freezes the use of PARCC high-stakes standardized test scores for three years, to enable this experimental test to be proven effective before it is used to evaluate our children, our teachers, and our public schools. A4190 was approved by the New Jersey Assembly by a bipartisan vote of 63 Yes to 7 No, on February 23rd, 2015.

S2766/A3079 Prohibits the administration of non-diagnostic standardized tests prior to 3rd grade. A3079 was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly on March 9, 2015.

S2765/A3077 Informs families of all standardized tests administered by school districts and charter schools, including their uses and costs. A 3077 was unanimously approved by the New Jersey Assembly on March 9, 2015.

Senator Teresa Ruiz, Education Committee Chair, and Commissioner David Hespe

Senator Teresa Ruiz, Education Committee Chair, and Commissioner David Hespe

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PARCC Study Commission Member: PARCC is Great

I’m not sure whether Dana Egreczky and Melanie Willoughby–co-authors of a pro-PARCC opinion piece published yesterday on nj.com–are parents of children in New Jersey’s public schools, but I do know that they’re not educators: the bio at the end of their piece lists Egreczky as a Senior VP of Workforce Development at the NJ Chamber of Commerce and Willoughby as a Senior VP at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

The bio fails to mention, however, that Egreczky is also a member of the Governor’s Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessment in New Jersey.  (How’s that for objectivity? I wonder what Egreczky will contribute to the Commission’s final report–and whether her staunch support of PARCC, including her organization’s membership in We Raise NJ–should preclude her from having input into it. Let’s not forget that David Hespe, Chair of the Study Commission, published a similar defense of PARCC on February 24th. But I digress.)

According to Egreczky and Willoughby, New Jersey employers have been increasingly plagued–specifically in the past decade–by high school and college graduates who are “underprepared for the workplace.” The solution, according to Egreczky and Willoughby, is clear: Common Core and PARCC.

But even a cursory reading of this piece exposes the many problems that arise when people who have no understanding of the intricacies of K-12 education drive reforms that reshape it–particularly when such reforms are met with overwhelming opposition from parents and educators. Some specific issues:

  1. It’s not surprising that the OECD report the authors cite links directly to the Educational Testing $ervice website, where the preface notes that the report’s authors chose to focus on millennials’ job skills because millennials are “the most recent products of our educational system.”  While the results of the report are content for an entirely different post (see Jersey Jazzman here), it’s important to note that the millennials in question, “the most recent products of our educational system,” are actually products of No Child Left Behind–the 2001 standards-based ESEA reauthorization that relies heavily upon punitive high-stakes standardized testing.  Why would anyone believe that more standardized testing–with higher stakes attached–will “fix” public schools or our “unprepared” future workers?
  2. The authors claim that “47 percent of first year, full-time public college and university students in New Jersey have to retake high school math or English classes”–a statistic they attribute to (without providing documentation) the NJ Secretary of Higher Education. Such a statistic without context is virtually meaningless. Why were these students forced to retake English or math courses? (Was it because of Accuplacer or other test results? Did the colleges/universities require the courses?) Are these students from public, private, or charter schools? Are they all from New Jersey–or just enrolled in college here? Does the statistic include non-native English speakers? students with learning disabilities? students who returned to college after years without schooling? (See Rowan mathematics professor Eric Milou’s challenge of similar misuses of statistics here.)
  3. The authors claim that “our children are missing out on a considerable advantage because we have become complacent with their education.” Complacent? Who has become “complacent”? Educators? Parents? The thousands of parents and educators who are speaking out against reforms they know are bad for students? As a teacher, I find this statement to be wildly offensive, and I’d venture to guess that most educators who have dedicated their professional lives to educating New Jersey’s students–and most parents who advocate daily on behalf of their children–would agree.
  4. Not surprisingly, the authors include one of the most frequently-cited (yet most-ridiculous) PARCC selling points: that the test results will “provide detailed information that help parents and teachers work with students to improve their performance and better prepare them for the later stages of their academic and professional careers.” I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again: I have never learned anything new about any of my students from their scores on a standardized test. Ever. And while PARCC cheerleaders claim that the PARCC assessments are “different” from and “better” than other standardized tests, there is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim. (I also refuse to believe that Pearson-scored test results which will be returned half a year after my students take the PARCC assessments will be useful to teachers or parents in any way–even if the score reports are printed in pretty colors.)
  5. Returning to Dana Egreczky’s position as a member of the Study Commission: Ms. Egreczky says in this piece that her organization, the NJ Chamber of Commerce, “enthusiastically joined the We Raise NJ coalition and pledged to support the transition to better quality standardized tests for our teachers and students.” As such, Ms. Egreczky should be removed from the Study Commission, as she cannot possibly be objective in her participation.

Ultimately, it’s glaringly evident–especially from the dozens of reader comments on the Egreczky and Willoughby opinion piece–that New Jerseyans have grown tired of people who have no experience with education using superficial arguments to create and promote education policy that’s inherently flawed.

Perhaps if groups like the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association are interested in attracting more prepared workers to New Jersey’s businesses, they should advocate for vocational education, which has been cut in the name of the reading- and math-prep that PARCC promotes; insist on high-quality on-the-job-training instead of suggesting that PARCC reading and math tests will do anything to prepare students for the workforce; support–instead of oppose–minimum-wage increases; and advocate for–instead of against–paid sick leave for New Jersey’s workers. Because as we focus almost exclusively on ensuring our students are good test-takers, and as the middle class diminishes, and as poverty and hardship become increasingly common in New Jersey and around the country, our students and their families will suffer–and so will the sacred test scores that misguided reformers value above all else.

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The Press of Atlantic City editorial board tells people to “relax” about PARCC. Really?

This morning, the editorial board at the Press of Atlantic City published a piece that compares widespread, bipartisan, and surging resistance to the Common Core-aligned PARCC exams to other “anxiety attacks” to which Americans are evidently prone. Their conclusion: “Relax, folks.

How shortsighted, condescending, dismissive, and ignorant.

My first question, obviously, is this: what authority does the editorial board at the Press of Atlantic City have to comment on the test-refusal movement that’s sweeping New Jersey? Are there any education experts on the board? Any parents of public school children? And how carefully have the board members researched, tracked, and evaluated the very real and very alarming concerns that are driving the test-refusal movement?

As I am not a regular reader of the Press of Atlantic City, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I am, however, shocked at the arrogance it takes for an editorial board to proclaim that four legislative bills that have bipartisan support–and that have generated extraordinary public participation in the legislative process–are “unnecessary.” I’m shocked at the arrogance it takes for an editorial board to call what most would label a public-education crisis as “hoo-ha.” And perhaps most importantly, I’m shocked at the arrogance and ignorance it takes for an editorial board to suggest that people “relax” and “withhold judgment and give the test a try.”

Actually, New Jersey parents, educators, and taxpayers have “give[n] the test a try.” Take the PARCC events are being conducted all over the state, and at such events, glaring problems with both the test and the technology it requires have been exposed. People with PhDs have attempted the PARCC and decried its content and construction and have expressed doubt about whether they themselves would earn a passing scores. Literacy experts like Russ Walsh have determined that the tests are designed to fail students because the reading levels of test passages are inappropriate for children in many grades. Teachers have been in-serviced on the PARCC tests and instructed by their superiors–who feel virtually threatened by the NJDOE–to directly teach to the PARCC tests. And just this week, schools that began administering the PARCC tests early ran into “glitches” that forced them to cancel testing altogether for the day.

(I wonder if members of the Press of Atlantic City editorial board have attended any Take the PARCC events–or even tried, independently, the practice tests that are available online. If so, I’d be interested to hear their reactions–and see their scores.)

We’ve also seen, firsthand, the ways in which the PARCC tests have forced a narrowing of the curriculum, promoted cuts in academic and extracurricular programs, impeded children’s natural love of learning, and required districts to spend hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to comply with the NJDOE’s unfunded mandates.  

And let’s not forget to mention the problems with Pearson, the British for-profit corporation that produces and scores the tests (actually, people who respond to Craigslist solicitations score the tests for $11/hour) and has a decades-long history of test-construction and scoring errors and millions in payouts in legal settlements.

Has the Press of Atlantic City editorial board considered any of this–or that more than a dozen states that initially signed up for PARCC dropped it before they could even administer the tests?

The board the goes on to blame “special interest groups” like the Tea Party and the NJEA for the widespread test resistance that’s happening in New Jersey, but in what is perhaps the most offensive paragraph in the piece, the board concludes this:

And the parents who say the test is making their children anxious are also overstating their case, in our opinion. Schools have been giving standardized tests — and students have been anxious about them — for decades. And if truth be told, parents and teachers have a lot to do with inducing that anxiety.

Unbelievable.

Yes, it’s true that standardized tests have been around for decades; adults who went through public schools before the NCLB testing craze began likely remember the low-stakes CAT or IOWA tests–or elective, higher-stakes tests like the SATs. The punitive testing we’re experiencing under NCLB and RTtT, though, is nothing like anything we have ever seen, and the damage it’s doing is unprecedented.

Blaming that damage on parents and teachers is immeasurably reckless, irresponsible, and insulting.

But I suppose that only people who have an actual understanding of the educational process, the complexity of child development, and the implications of the PARCC assessment–and not people who sit in behind news desks and blindly direct those who are wholeheartedly invested in and concerned for our children, teachers, and public schools to “relax”–would understand why.

 

 

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Free PARCC test prep delivered to your phone from your friendly NJPTA!

Yes, for real.

The PTA has been under a great deal of scrutiny lately, mostly because of the organization’s Gates-funded support for a host of education reforms that are categorically bad for kids, teachers, and public education.

In January, I wrote about the National PTA’s horrific decision to feature Steve Perry in its monthly publication, and more recently, the New Jersey PTA has been criticized by parents and teachers–you know, the people the organization says it represents–who are angry about all the Common Core and PARCC cheerleading the organization has been doing. (I’ll qualify this post by saying, again, that I love and appreciate my local PTA–because it directly benefits our school community. Credit for this success at the local level goes directly to our local PTA parents and the positive relationships they maintain with our town’s teachers and students.)

In addition to stumping for CCSS/PARCC on their Facebook page, NJPTA officers have been attempting to maintain a covert yet public presence at events where PARCC is discussed. Last month, Darcie Cimarusti reported that a “PTA plant” was the sole PARCC supporter in a group of over 60 parents and teachers who testified in front of the Study Commission in Jackson. If you haven’t read Darcie’s post yet, you should read it now.

The NJPTA is also behind “We Raise NJ,” a coalition that’s made up of PARCC cheerleaders like the NJSBA, NJASA, NJPSA, and NJ Chamber of Commerce. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We Raise NJ” is evidently planning a pro-PARCC “informational effort” in response to parent and teacher opposition to the tests, probably because incoming NJPTA president Rose Acerra’s believes that “there is a small group of parents making noise, but…there are more who are looking up to us to give them information.”

Let’s start with the obvious question: what authority does the NJPTA have to disseminate information about the PARCC exam? I’ve checked the organization’s list of Board Officers, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who has experience as an educator or other credentials that foster an understanding of curriculum, instruction, and/or assessment.

But who cares! Because in its quest to give out “information” about PARCC, the NJPTA is willing to text people weekly test-prep tips in advance of the assessments. Here’s what they posted on their Facebook page last night:

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 8.09.09 AM

 

That’s right, people: PARCC prep should be on your daily to-do list: right up there with feeding your children and dog and respecting the environment. (Does the absence of a check-mark next to “Get ready for PARCC” suggest that the NJPTA believes parents have been negligent in this area of family life? Does the highlighting suggest that PARCC prep is more important than the chores listed above it?!)

None of my regular readers will be shocked to learn that I *immediately* signed up to get my test-prep tips, and although I’m not in the classroom now because today’s my first official day of maternity leave, I’m looking forward to sharing PARCC test-taking tips with my newborn once he arrives so I can make sure he’s College and Career Ready.  (To be clear–the NJPTA texts will be test-prep tips, even though some members of “We Raise NJ” have tried to claim that teachers can’t teach to the PARCC test. If the NJPTA were interested in promoting critical thinking, it would ask parents to text “CRITICAL THINKING” instead of “PREP” to the number listed in the picture above.)

In order to get my first “tip,” I had to send the NJPTA my name and email address. I’m not sure why or what they’ll do with it, but I’m assuming my information has been added to some sort of “friends-of-PARCC” database. (#winning!) Here’s what popped up once I was completely enrolled:

FullSizeRender-4

A tip about using highlighters to “dissect” nonfiction passages!! Super useful.

But I wonder if the NJPTA knows that students often work with the same text for a long sequence of questions that appear on many different screens–and that any highlighting students do on any given screen is lost when they move on to the next question.

I wonder if the NJPTA understands that highlighters aren’t very effective tools for “dissecting” passages, which is why many teachers encourage annotations rather than highlighting.

And, not to split hairs, I wonder if the NJPTA has read the CCSS ELA standards for Grade 3, which require students to “ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.” (The person who composed “Tip #1″ failed to recognize “child” as a singular antecedent and “them” as a plural pronoun. Whoops!)

Although I’m a *little* concerned that this NJPTA text-party is more of an effort to promote a political agenda than it is to help students succeed academically, I do encourage all parents who care about their children’s College and Career Readiness to sign up for the NJPTA’s PARCC tips. (It’ll be fun! “Hey, kids: I just got a text from the PTA! Drop your toys, find some nonfiction, and grab a highlighter!”)

And don’t worry: if you don’t like the test-prep tips the NJPTA has to offer, you can “text STOP to opt-out” of the updates. (I know!)

Or, you could consider sending an entirely different message to the organization:

 

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P.S. Don’t forget to feed your children and the dog! Thanks.

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Guest Post: NJ Legislators Need to Stand up for Our Children–By Christopher Tienken, Ed.D. and Julia Sass Rubin, Ph.D.

The first administration of the experimental new PARCC high-stakes standardized tests is only weeks away and parents are increasingly concerned. Hundreds of families have notified their school districts that their children will not be taking the PARCC tests.

Approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey school districts have responded by assuring parents who refuse the test that their children will be provided with an alternative location, or at least the ability to read in class, while their classmates take the test.

Other districts, however, have taken a much more punitive approach, threatening to force children as young as eight to remain in the testing room with no other activities except sitting and staring for the two-week duration of the test. Some districts have even threatened students whose parents refuse the test with disciplinary actions.

In response, parents are asking the New Jersey legislature to intervene and pass A4165/S2767. This legislation requires all districts and charter schools to provide consistent, humane treatment for children whose parents refuse standardized tests.

As growing numbers of legislators indicate their support for A4165/S2767, officials within the New Jersey Department of Education have apparently initiated a campaign to block its passage by claiming that the proposed legislation would cost districts precious dollars. Specifically, the NJDOE is arguing that the US Department of Education would use powers it has under the No Child Left Behind law to cut Title I funding for any schools that fall below 95 percent student participation levels on the PARCC.

Keep in the mind that the proposed legislation does not direct parents to have their children opt-out or refuse the state mandated tests. The proposed legislation simply asks for a consistent statewide policy of humane treatment for children whose parents choose to refuse the testing. As more school administrators decide to make students needlessly “sit and stare” for two weeks of testing, plus up to two additional weeks of make-up testing, it is imperative that the legislature act to protect children from such treatment.

So will the US Department of Education take your school’s Title 1 funds if this legislation becomes law?

The answer is NO, and here are some reasons why.

1. There is no federal or state law that requires financial penalties to schools’ Title I funds if parents refuse to allow their children to take the PARCC tests. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law did include a mandate that required schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on state tests or face sanctions. The intent of that law was to prevent schools from hiding subgroups of students from the accountability structure and was not aimed at preventing parents from refusing to have their children tested.

However, since 2012, NJ has had a waiver to NCLB that replaces those sanctions with a new accountability system.

Under the waiver, only schools designated “priority” or “focus” schools face direct intervention for missing state targets. New Jersey’s 250 priority and focus schools can have up to 30 percent of their federal Title I funds re-directed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) for specific “interventions,” but even these funds are supposed to be used for school improvement, not taken away. And the NJDOE already has the ability to redirect a part of the Title I allocations received by priority and focus schools.

2. No federal financial penalties related to Title I instructional funds have been imposed on any New Jersey school for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

And missing the 95 percent participation rate at the school level is not unusual in New Jersey.

According to NJDOE data, last spring, nine schools in seven New Jersey districts had overall schoolwide NJ ASK participation rates below 95 percent; 175 schools in 104 districts had participation rates below 95 percent for at least one of the student subgroups (e.g., special needs, Limited English Proficient, economically disadvantaged, etc.,).[i]

None of those schools experienced any federal financial repercussions to Title I funds.  In fact, no school has ever lost Title I funds due to punishment by the federal government for missing the 95 percent participation rate.

3. Other states have laws that protect parents’ right to opt their children out or refuse high-stakes standardized testing and no federal financial penalties of any sort have been imposed on schools in those states as a result of these laws.

For example, in Wisconsin “Upon the request of a pupil’s parent or guardian, the school board shall excuse the pupil from taking an examination administered under sub. (1m).”[ii]

In California, a “parent or guardian may submit to the school a written request to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of any test provided pursuant to Ed Code Section 60640.”[iii]

4. The US Congress is rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – the federal legislation that mandates annual standardized testing. A reauthorized ESEA may completely eliminate the federal interventions that are in the current version of ESEA and is likely to give individual states much more decision-making authority when it comes to accountability and testing mandates.

So the NJDOE’s threat of Title I funding cuts at local schools seems premature at best given the past practice of the United States Department of Education to not sanction NJ schools’ Title I Funds for missing the 95 percent participation rate. The moral imperative for the NJDOE, the NJ Legislature and for individual school districts should be to act in the best interests of New Jersey children, and that means treating students humanely if their parents choose to participate in the democratic tradition of dissent.


Christopher Tienken is an Associate Professor of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University. 

Julia Sass Rubin is an Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and one of the founding members of the all-volunteer pro-public education group Save Our Schools NJ.

[i] http://www.state.nj.us/education/schools/achievement/index.html

[ii] http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/118/30

[iii] Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, Division 1, Chapter 2, Subchapter 3.75.

 

 

 95% participation

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“If he refuses PARCC…we’ll all refuse PARCC…it’ll be anarchy…”

This morning, Save Our Schools New Jersey reported that 74 districts across the state have agreed to accommodate PARCC refusals with alternate settings for non-testing students.

Yes, you read that correctly: 74. That number will likely be higher by tomorrow.

Yet many districts, taking cues from an October NJDOE memo that references irrelevant policies and indirectly suggests that test-refusers should be disciplined, are still insisting that all New Jersey public school children *SHALL* take the PARCC.

And earlier this week, a group of attorneys–reiterating that there is no “opt out” provision in New Jersey–stepped the scare-factor up a notch and issued the following statement (emphasis mine):

As previously stated, students are not permitted to opt-out of the PARCC assessment or any state mandated assessment in New Jersey. Our office recommends reviewing your absentee and disciplinary policies in light of the Commissioner’s suggestion. We also recommend advising parents of the importance of testing and have available a sample letter you are free to use. You should be prepared to implement the District’s policies and impose discipline on students who attempt to defiantly refuse to sit for the PARCC assessment.

Great idea! Impose discipline! Sit for the test or else! Threatening children–especially in an educational setting–is always effective!

Right?!

Obviously not. And you know what? I don’t believe that there are any educators–or even people who pretend to be educators–who think that threatening children is appropriate or effective. So what’s this all about?

One word: control. Fear of losing control. Fear of opening the door for civil disobedience. Fear of refusal contagion.

Fear that if one parent successfully refuses the PARCC, everyone will refuse the PARCC…and Common Core and its mandatory testing component will collapse…

…and then it’ll be ANARCHY!

(Either that or local control of public education will be restored–and the people who actually work with and know what’s best for children will be allowed to do their jobs the right way.)

That’s what this rah-rah PARCC rhetoric and these sit-and-stare threats are really all about.

richard-vernon

“That’s the last time, Bender. That’s the last time you ever make me look bad in front of those kids, you hear me?”

 

What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is that he gives good kids bad ideas. The last thing I need at this point in my career is 1500 Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls. He jeopardizes my ability to effectively govern this student body.

“What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is that he gives good kids bad ideas. The last thing I need at this point in my career is 1500 Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls. He jeopardizes my ability to effectively govern this student body.”

 


 

People who actually acknowledge that the Principal Vernon and Principal Rooney methods of intimidation aren’t generally effective:

“From a practical standpoint, every district is going to have to have a procedure in place when a kid refuses to participate, because you can’t handcuff a kid to the computer to take the test.“–Philip Nicastro, Vice President of Strauss Esmay Associates (the group that issued procedural guidance that included alternative setting options to approximately 475 districts across the state)

 

“Nobody can force your child to put their hands on a keyboard.” —Mark Biedron, president of the NJ State Board of Education

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And the fear-mongering NJDOE spake these words, saying:

We are the Department of Education, who have brought thee out of the Land of Failure and Ignorance, and toward the House of College and Career Readiness.

Thou shalt have no other Educational Authorities before us.

Thou shalt not read nor attempt to interpret any statements the Commissioner of Education has made to njspotlight.com about district autonomy, read or attempt to interpret NJ-specific PARCC policy manuals, regard the definition of a “Non-Testing Student” provided by Stephanie the PARCC Customer Service Representative, read Strauss Esmay procedural guidelines, form or join a grassroots advocacy groups that inform thee of ways and reasons to “opt out” of mandatory testing, or pay attention to any Boards of Education or Superintendents that have issued “humane” PARCC “refusal” guidelines. Thou shalt not worship any of these groups, nor serve as volunteers or organizers for them, nor share their Facebook posts, Internet links, or Test Refusal Templates.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Department of Education, its Commissioner, PARCC, Pearson, the NJSBA, the NJPTA, the NJCC, or the NJPSA in vain, either in private, in writing, on Facebook, on Twitter, on NJ 101.5, or in sessions of public testimony, for we will not hold him guiltless that commits such acts in any forum.

Thou shalt remember the Testing Day, to keep it holy during Time on Task. For nearly ten hours shalt thou labor, and when thou hast finished, thou may rest to restore thy strength for any additional testing We deem is necessary to determine thy College and Career Readiness.

Thou shalt ignore thy father and mother, should thy father and mother attempt to refuse testing for thee, for thy father and mother are as ignorant as thou art with regard to PARCC testing. Otherwise, thy days will be long and filled with Disciplinary Consequences.

Thou shalt not refuse to test, or else thou shalt Sit and Stare.

Thou shalt not pollute the testing environment by fidgeting, drawing on paper or school furniture or other property, coughing loudly, flaunting thy refusal in the face of thy test-taking peers, possessing forbidden electronic devices or works of fiction, requesting to use the lavatory, flushing toilets, uttering inappropriate remarks under thy breath, making squeaking noises by shifting in thy chair, restoring factory settings to or installing viruses on thy Chromebook, or engaging in other forms of “misconduct” as determined by Us.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighboring district’s humane PARCC test refusal policy, nor any district’s BOE members or administrators who speak out against Sit and Stare, nor any district’s expensive technology, bandwidth, or district-isssued headphones, nor any “alternative placement locations” for non-testing students.


 

Thou shalt obey these moral imperatives and engage in appropriate testing behavior, or else thy school will be punished and unfunded, thou wilt be deemed Unready for College and Career, and thy life will be ruined and thy teacher will be fired.

 

http://parentpreviews.com/legacy-pics/ten_commandments.jpg

So Sayeth the New Jersey Department of Education.

 

 

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New Jersey voters on standardized testing: ENOUGH.

Last month, NJEA and the D.C. based Mellman Group, Inc. conducted a New Jersey statewide survey of 1,000 likely voters, and the results were overwhelmingly clear: when it comes to issues facing today’s public school children, teachers and parents know best. 

The NJDOE, legislators, and other non-educators? Not so much.

While virtually every polling question used in the survey is worth discussing (you can see the complete results of the poll here, here, and here, and you can read an op-ed from NJEA’s Wendell Steinhauer and Save Our Schools NJ’s Susan Cauldwell here), I’ll limit myself to a few:

First and foremost, voters confirmed a long-acknowledged phenomenon that’s not limited to New Jersey: that people are generally very happy with their public schools and their public school teachers.

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Despite their confidence in New Jersey’s schools and teachers, though, voters are concerned about the direction in which public education in New Jersey is heading—because of mandates being imposed by the state and federal governments—and an overwhelming percentage of both parents and voters believe that there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in teaching public school children.

The concerns? Standardized testing “causes stress for students”; “takes time and money from other educational priorities”; forces teachers to “teach to the test”; does not “provide a good measure of each individual student”; and is “given too much weight when used to make decisions on teachers, schools, and students.”

(This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the statewide and nationwide debates about PARCC testing, but somehow, many people–including NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe–still believe that parents and educators with concerns about the assessments represent a very small percentage of the population.)

According to the survey and in response to the testing craze, a majority of parents and voters oppose making PARCC tests a graduation requirement; want to “limit the number of hours spent on standardized testing”; want to “stop giving standardized tests to students below the 3rd grade”; want to “give parents the right of refusal [opt-out] so that their kids don’t have to take standardized tests”; and want testing companies to disclose both the amount of profit they make from taxpayer money spent on standardized tests and the political contributions they make with such profits. In short, they favor the creation of a testing Bill of Rights (see slide at the bottom of this post) that addresses these concerns.

Why? The poll results speak for themselves:

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And not surprisingly, parents and voters ranked teachers and parents the most trustworthy people on the issue of standardized testing. Only 12% of parents and 15% of voters believe that the New Jersey Department of Education has credibility with regard to this issue, and only 3% of parents and 4% of voters believe that state legislators are trustworthy when it comes to issues surrounding high-stakes testing.

(It’s worth noting here that when the Delran Education Association hosted a “Take the PARCC” event for nearly 500 parents, educators, and community members, not one legislator attended even though more than a dozen received personal invitations. Commissioner Hespe got a personal invitation, too–but he didn’t show up either.)

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This slide alone is worth sharing widely. The message is clear!

 


It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the consensus among likely voters about standardized testing could be more overwhelming. Yet despite statewide and nationwide opposition to testing and other reforms, many powers that be refuse to deviate from their “we-know-better-than-you-what’s-best-for-kids” course.

And while the NJDOE, the NJPTA, the NJSBA, the NJPSA, and legislators all over the state continue to cheerlead for high-stakes standardized tests and dismiss the glaring concerns of people who actually know what’s good for children, they reinforce the concern that this level of bureaucratic interference in public education is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

And parents, educators, and voters say ENOUGH.

Enough of empty, unfounded, and inflammatory statements like George Bush’s ridiculous claim that “rarely is the question asked: ‘is our children learning?” Teachers assess their kids every single day.

Enough of non-educators cheapening and oversimplifying the learning process by claiming that standardized testing is simply a necessary and innocuous way to measure students’ academic progress.

Enough with the empty claims that unproven standardized tests produced and scored by error-plagued, corrupt, for-profit corporations will somehow give us valuable information about the children we see and interact with every day. In my 14 years of teaching, a standardized test has NEVER told me something about a child that I didn’t know within the first month of school. Ever.

Enough of federal and state policy constructed solely around the quest to hunt and root out all the nameless, faceless “bad teachers” that supposedly plague our schools despite overwhelming evidence which shows the opposite.

Enough with inhumane policies that attempt to force even our smallest children to take tests that their parents and educators know are worthless.

Enough with education policy that’s driven by a fundamental belief that teachers are, as a profession, “bad,”  that students and schools, in general, are “failing,” and that incessant testing is the “solution” to the problems facing public education.

And enough with legislators and other education officials who refuse to engage in discussions about standardized testing and other reforms with parents or educators.

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NJ 101.5’s Eric Scott on David Hespe’s refusal to engage in a public discussion about PARCC

All this in the state whose schools are consistently labeled–using multiple measures and not just standardized test scores—as the best in the nation.

All this in the state whose leaders have determine that sweeping, top-down, one-size-fits-all reforms are necessary for all public schools because teachers are ill-equipped to assess their own students–and despite glaring evidence that the poverty, violence, and inequality that plague many urban NJ districts correlate directly with the academic struggles of students in those regions.

And all this in the state that’s led by a governor who insists that high-stakes standardized tests, no-excuses discipline policies, longer school days and years, the Common Core, and PARCC are absolutely necessary for all of our public school kids—yet he pays tens of thousands of dollars per year to send his children to a school that operates according the exact opposite philosophies.

So here are some ideas for New Jersey’s education policymakers and policy-promoters:

If your only experience with K-12 education is your own as a student, please acknowledge that you cannot possibly speak about the complexity of a child’s education or the educational climate in today’s public schools with any kind of authority.

If you criticize children, parents, and teachers without having any idea of what goes on in public schools every day, either make a concerted effort to visit schools, talk to parents and students, and talk to teachers before you make dangerous generalizations–or just stay out of it.

If you promote or create education policies based solely on “data” that you’ve “unpacked” and numbers you’ve crunched from your seat behind a non school district-issued desk, have the respect to defer to the professionals who make a career out of educating children and the parents whose children suffer every day from your arrogant, ignorant, and ill-conceived policies.

If you hang your hat on reforms that sound good in theory but are fundamentally flawed in practice, please reevaluate your own understanding of K-12 education and the extent to which you’re entitled to speak as an authority about it.

If you have been elected to represent the people of New Jersey, you need to listen to what those people are saying about Common Core and PARCC–and respond accordingly. (Thank you to those legislators who are already doing so.)

If you fail to see the value in local control of education and in district and educator autonomy, please visit the communities your policies affect and speak with stakeholders there.

If you send your children to schools that are exempt from the reforms you impose on other people’s children, please ask yourself why you feel that your children don’t need to be assessed incessantly by flawed measures–but other people’s children do.

If you’re unwilling to have a discussion about educational reforms with the people those reforms affect every day, you should step down and make room for someone who is.

And if you’re still sure that PARCC is a great test that we should impose on all of New Jersey’s public school children every year, please take the test and publish your scores.  

Because as we speak, desperate parents who love their kids’ teachers and schools are discussing home-schooling and private-schooling options because the death-grip of an over-reliance on standardized testing in public schools is becoming virtually inescapable. Desperate children are learning to hate school instead of love it–because programs they enjoy and value have been cut in the name of test prep. Desperate teachers who have lost autonomy and whose professional judgment has been deemed worthless are fleeing the profession that’s become virtually unrecognizable to them. Desperate school leaders are doing everything they can—even when their directives go against what they know to be best for children–to ensure that test scores in their buildings go up so their schools aren’t turned over to private corporations. Desperate taxpayers are watching as hundreds of millions of dollars are diverted to testing corporations and data-mining companies because of unfunded mandates imposed by state and federal governments. And a new wave of teachers who have no basis for comparison and think that test prep is what teaching is all about are pouring into our schools—particularly in urban areas—and blindly accepting the scripted models that are being fed to them in the name of “accountability.”

But then again, maybe these really are end-goals of the educational policies promoted by many of the powers that be in New Jersey: “prove” failure and use it as justification to drive people from the public school system and into the hands of private corporations.

Enough.

 

Call for a testing Bill of Rights--and encourage your legislators to do the same.

Call for a testing Bill of Rights–and encourage your legislators to do the same.

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PARCC requires a new and unprecedented kind of test prep

On January 14th, Star-Ledger guest columnist Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, published an opinion piece advising New Jerseyans to “Give NJ’s new PARCC tests a chance.

In her column, Wright offers a message that’s typical of Common Core/PARCC supporters: that PARCC tests will “more accurately gauge our students’ mastery” of the new standards and will “lead to higher levels of student achievement”– even though neither of these claims has been or can be substantiated.

But rather than focusing–again–on the glaring, numerous, and undeniable problems with PARCC tests (see here for the Delran Education Association’s position statement on high-stakes standardized tests, and see here for Save Our Schools New Jersey’s “The 12 Reasons We Oppose the PARCC test,” and see here for Seton Hall professor Chris Tienken’s debunking of five PARCC claims), I’ll address another issue Wright brings up: that of “teaching to the test.”

Wright claims:

“Issues of accountability have also led to concerns that teachers will ‘teach to the test,’ narrowing what kids learn. Fortunately, this apprehension is unfounded because of the way PARCC works. No longer will a focus on ‘test-prep strategies’ such as ‘eliminate one answer you know is wrong and guess from the remaining possibilities’ work.”

Really?

First of all, it’s interesting that Wright is so quick to dismiss traditional test-taking strategies like answer elimination, especially given that such a practice actually requires students to think critically about the options presented and use the process of elimination to arrive at the best answer. Also, PARCC assessments still do include multiple-choice questions (although it is true that some require that students choose more than one answer per question), so I’m not sure why Wright feels discussions about answer-elimination will suddenly disappear.

But more importantly, how long does it take to explain such a strategy to children? Have any schools shaped curricula around practicing multiple-choice answer elimination in the past? I doubt it.

Wright is, in her blurb about test prep, correct about one thing: that answer-elimination strategies will not be the “focus” of teachers’ efforts to prepare their students for PARCC assessments.

Why?

Because PARCC assessments are as much a measure of a student’s technological readiness as they are of the skills they claim to assess.

Exhibit 1: Study Island/Edmentum 

Edmentum is a program designed to ensure that students “are ready for the next generation of assessments” and are able to “achieve standards mastery with actionable data.” In recent years, districts all over the country have purchased subscriptions to Edmentum programs like Study Island, and in some cases, teachers have been directed to assign Study Island practice to students either during class time or for homework.  From the Edmentum website (emphasis mine):

Edmentum’s PARCC Preparation Bundle, featuring Study Island and Edmentum Assessments, addresses the individualized test prep needs of your learners by offering choices for students working above, at, or below grade level to ensure that every student attains academic success.

Browse virtually any education-related discussion board or social media page and you’ll understand the extent to which public school students all over the country are being assigned–and graded on–“PARCC-like” or “Smarter Balanced-like” activities and assessments, and you’ll see testimonies from frustrated teachers who are required to assign such work despite the fact that they know that their time–and their students’ time–would be much better spent in a host of different ways.

Unfortunately, Edmentum is only a small indicator of the larger problem: that there’s lots of money to be made when lots of students score below proficient on Common Core-aligned assessments and require “remediation” in the form of–you guessed it–test prep.  (That many students don’t have access to technology at home is a completely separate issue, and such students will be at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers and will lose more instructional time to test-prep programs like Study Island. Don’t let anyone tell you that Common Core testing will close the “achievement gap,” because the opposite is true and this is one reason why.)

But we aren’t going to test-prep for PARCC, says Ms. Wright.

Exhibit 2: “PARCC Testing Tips”–and other similar preparatory measures

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A parent recently posted this document, which was sent home with her elementary-level child, online (I’m not sure of its origins of the document or the exact grade-level it was meant for), and other parents immediately added that their own children had received similar instructions on “computer skills” and “keyboarding”–specifically so those students could prepare for the PARCC.

Is this not test-prep, Ms. Wright?

Have teachers not been directed to devote instructional time to getting students on laptops so they can learn to drag and drop, cut and paste, and use a trackpad?

Is this sort of test prep not less valuable than strategies that require students to think critically about multiple answers in order to eliminate incorrect options?

And does time spent on this sort of instruction–instead of on meaningful activities that foster critical thinking and a love of learning–not result in a “narrowing of what kids learn”?

Yes: our test prep is now focused on ensuring that students are comfortable (if that’s possible!) with the PARCC interface–and that they’re able to type quickly enough to respond to open-ended questions, manipulate a mouse, cut and paste, drag and drop, and stay calm when glitches come up.  (And glitches WILL happen; see this article, posted yesterday, which describes systems crashing, log-on problems, and program failures that plagued a New Mexico school’s attempts to administer the “controversial” PARCC test, or this article, which describes what happened when parents and community members tried to log on to practice PARCC tests at a Take the PARCC event.)

To be clear: I understand why teachers feel pressures to teach to the PARCC test, and I understand why administrators feel it necessary to direct teachers to do so–for a few reasons.

First, PARCC assessments are so different from other standardized tests that students must have a certain degree of exposure to the system’s interface in order to even be able to think about dealing with content. The PARCC system is not user-friendly (students must be able to deal with multiple tabs at once, they’re only able to see a very small portion of a text at one time, and often answers and texts cannot fit on the same screen–so students must scroll back and forth while working on one problem), and the issues it presents were overwhelming for me when I attempted the test for the first time last spring and were independent of the issues I had with the actual content and construction of the assessment. So yes–if students’ first experiences with the PARCC system comes when they sit down to take the actual assessment in March, many kids will be lost. (Also, remember that we’re already expecting high failure rates on PARCC tests.)

Secondly, and more largely, how can we expect educators to not push test-prep when the results from PARCC tests (and other Common Core-aligned tests) will be used to close schools, fire teachers, and standardize curricula?

Consider this: earlier in the week, NY governor Andrew Cuomo said that he wants standardized test scores to count for 50% of teachers’ evaluations because teacher evaluation systems are “baloney.

50%. Think about the implications of such a mandate. (And see Jersey Jazzman for more on Cuomo’s failures with regard to education.)

While the weight of test scores on teachers’ evaluations in New Jersey isn’t that high (yet), Race to the Top requires test scores to factor into teachers’ evaluations. Funding is tied to this mandate.

But again, this testing craze doesn’t promote teaching to a test. Right?

I wonder: if Ms. Wright were a classroom teacher with students who were scheduled to take the PARCC in a couple of months–and if her livelihood depended on her students’ test scores–would she think differently about the “test prep” she assures concerned citizens won’t happen with PARCC?

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