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.
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.