If you haven’t yet read the broadcast that New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe sent to district leaders today, read it here.
Then, think about these problems with that broadcast:
“The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires schools with students in grades three through twelve to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In order to make AYP, a school must ensure that assessments have been taken by at least ninety-five percent (95%) of enrolled students in each subgroup, i.e., special education, English language learners, low income, race/ethnicity. Federal funding of key education programs is dependent upon districts meeting this requirement.”
New Jersey, like most other states in the nation, was awarded a NCLB waiver–rendering the AYP requirement virtually meaningless for most districts. Beyond that, the issue is difficult to explain concisely (here’s a link with some good info; it’s from NY, but much of it applies to NJ as well)–so more on the now-irrelevant 95% figure later.
“Since the PARCC assessment is part of the State required educational program, schools are not required to provide an alternative educational program for students who do not participate in the statewide assessment. We encourage all chief school administrators to review the district’s discipline and attendance policies to ensure that they address situations that may arise during days that statewide assessments, such as PARCC, are being administered.”
So children whose parents refuse testing should be disciplined–and districts will be responsible for imposing those punishments? Note that districts “are not required” to make alternative accommodations for children whose parents refuse testing–but they’re also not prohibited from doing so. (Expect more backlash against and legal challenges to sit-and-stare policies if they’re instituted this year.)
“Throughout a student’s educational career, the PARCC assessments will provide parents with important information about their child’s progress toward meeting the goal of being college or career ready. The PARCC assessments will, for the first time, provide detailed diagnostic information about each individual student’s performance that educators, parents and students can utilize to enhance foundational knowledge and student achievement.”
This statement essentially suggests that the assessments New Jersey students have been taking for years (NJASK/HSPA) were worthless. If that’s true, why were students who scored partially proficient on the HSPA denied diplomas because of their scores? Why were they forced to participate in the AHSA process–which, in many districts, was offered in lieu of academic or elective courses and which sometimes lasted beyond a student’s senior year of high school–until they passed the HSPA? Why did many districts use NJASK and HSPA scores as justification for remedial course placements? Why did we devote so many instructional hours to inferior testing? Why did the NJDOE promote and tie high stakes to such inadequate tests for so long? What evidence does the NJDOE have that PARCC assessments are valid measures of student learning and/or achievement? What can one test “diagnose” that classroom teachers cannot? And, ultimately, why should parents trust the DOE’s evaluation of any assessment–especially an unproven and controversial one like PARCC–if it was so wrong about the NJASK and HSPA?
“The data derived from the assessment will be utilized by teachers and administrators to pinpoint areas of difficulty and customize instruction accordingly. Such data can be accessed and utilized as a student progresses to successive school levels.”
To suggest that teachers need scores on flawed standardized tests to identify “areas of difficulty” and to “customize instruction accordingly” completely undermines educators’ professionalism and judgment. There are far too many issues with the construction, validity, and scoring of these tests to allow them to be used to shape instruction.
The root of the problem:
“N.J.A.C. 6A:8-4.1(a) and (b) provides, “[t]he Commissioner…may implement assessment of student achievement in the State’s public schools in any grade(s) and by such assessments as he or she deems appropriate.”
Most parents and teachers opposed to high-stakes standardized tests do not share Commissioner Hespe’s belief that tests like PARCC are “appropriate”; instead, many believe them to be destructive to students’ overall educational experiences–and to public education in general.
Today’s broadcast is more evidence that the NJDOE supports–with renewed energy–the failed test-and-punish policies that parents, educators, and experts across the nation have been speaking out against for years. We all know that it’s impossible to force a child to take a test, but evidently the DOE believes that it can scare children and families into complying with PARCC mandates even if those families express fundamental opposition to them.
Ultimately, it will still be up to districts and local boards of education to determine how they’ll handle the inevitable refusals that are coming this year, and as was the case last year, expect policies to vary widely from district to district.
Adding: here’s my more personal response to Commissioner Hespe.