Monthly Archives: February 2015

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:

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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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